WASHINGTON-Madame CJ Walker, an icon of American history, began her professional life as an African American washerwoman in St. Louis, Missouri, but ultimately, she became a successful entrepreneur and the first self-made woman millionaire in this country.
Walker’s incredible life will be the feature of a Netfl ix miniseries, Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame CJ Walker, produced by LeBron James. The fi rst episode in the series will air tomorrow. Though greatly anticipated, the series is still a fi ctional presentation only based on Walker’s life that includes some artistic license used to create dramatic tension and confl ict, but which misrepresents some of the facts of Walker’s real life.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has a special relationship with the Walker legacy. Madame CJ Walker’s beautiful Italianate mansion in Irvington, New York, Villa Lewaro, is a National Trust Treasure, representing the most significant investment the Trust can make in the preservation of a historic site.
istoric site. In keeping with its commitment to “tell the full American story,” today the Trust posted an interview with Walker’s great-great granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, her primary biographer and caretaker of the Walker legacy, to share the facts about Walker’s life.
You can fi nd the Walker interview on our website and on Twitter at #TelltheFullStory. You can also take a virtual tour of this National Trust Treasure, Madame CJ Walker’s iconic mansion, Villa Lewaro, on our website as well.
Madame CJ Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on a plantation in Delta, Louisiana in 1867, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. She was the fi rst of her six siblings to be born into freedom. Both her parents had died by the age of seven, so she began doing domestic work and went to live with her older sister in Mississippi. After her fi rst husband died and she had left her second, she subsequently married Charles Walker and then became known as Madame CJ Walker.
Her popular hair loss pomade, shampoo and hot comb for black women were sold through a national salesforce of hundreds of women and a manufacturing company that employed thousands. She also engaged in the innovative international distribution of her products at the turn of the 20th century. She developed schools to teach her sales force styling tips and trained women to become “beauty culturists,” as she called them, or beauticians.
Walker was also a leader and generous donor to the women’s suffrage movement, the antilynching movement, and many prominent African American organizations of her day. When she died, she left a fortune of $600,000 worth about $13.3. million by today’s valuation.
She also left a beautiful Italianate mansion, called Villa Lewaro, named by Italian opera star Enrico Caruso, as a symbol of the possibilities available to anyone with the will to succeed. It was purchased recently by Richilieu Dennis, an African entrepreneur, owner of Sundial Brands and Essence magazine. The house will be used to develop a think tank for the start-ups of African American women.
As a group, African American women outpace the start-up initiative of many of their peer groups. While startups have fallen in the U.S. recently, the start-ups of black women have risen 164 percent. However, women receive only 2 percent of all start-up capital , and African American women receive less than one percent. Dennis’s think tank would help develop strategies to combat these capital limitations.