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Sarah Breedlove Walker

(Madame C. J. Walker)
businesswoman, philanthropist
Born: 12/23/1867
Birthplace: Delta, La.

After a series of bereavements that left her orphaned at 6 and widowed at 20, she and her daughter A'Lelia moved to St. Louis to start over. She worked days as a washerwoman and went to night school before inventing (1905) a process for straightening the hair of African-Americans. Her process, combining her unique formula with brushes and heated combs, caught on, and with the money from her successful business she and her daughter moved to Denver. She married Charles J. Walker, and began promoting her product and process under the name of Madame C. J. Walker. She opened a permanent office in Pittsburgh in 1908, which her daughter ran, and in 1910 she formed Madame C. J. Walker Laboratories in Indianapolis, where she developed products and trained her beauticians, known as “Walker Agents.” The agents and the products were recognized in black communities throughout the U.S. and Caribbean for promoting the philosophy that cleanliness and loveliness could advance the plight of African-Americans. At her death, the multi-million dollar estate was left to various philanthropic organizations and to her daughter, whose philanthropic endeavors were key to funding the Harlem Renaissance.

Died: 5/25/1919

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