Walker, daughter of freed slaves, is the first self-made millionaire woman and the first self-made millionaire African American (maybe – tax returns suggest it was $600K but she did very well for herself). She invented beauty products for Black people.
Walker was born in a sharecropper’s cabin. She is orphaned at seven. A freelance launderer, she married at 14, is a mother at 17, and a widow at 20. She never attended school but self-taught herself to read.
At 35 she is still a freelance launderer but bald; her hair fell out. Pope figured out this was due to the use of goose fat and other meat-based products, and strong soaps, that Black women used to style their hair. Pope who set up a hair products company and hired Breedlove as an early sales agent.
Breedlove, by then in her late 30’s (the average lifespan for non-white women was 35 years), formed her own company. She claimed to have invented her own beauty products from scratch using money from sales commissions.
Flamboyant and well dressed, Breedlove always focused on selling. She gave generously and openly to charities. At one point, a $10,000 gift to the then young NAACP was the largest donation in its young history. Sales and charity fundraising determined commissions.
“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations. I have built my own factory on my own ground…”Sarah Breedlove “C.J.” Walker