The National Business League

Founded by Dr. Booker T. Washington – August 23, 1900


Madam C. J. Walker

Madam C. J. Walker

Cosmetics and hair care products

Madam C. J. Walker founded the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company and created cosmetics and hair care products for Black women. She was the first recorded female self-made millionaire in America, and a philanthropist who donated to organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The first child in her family born into freedom, Walker was sadly orphaned at the age of seven, and started working as a domestic servant at the age of 10. She moved frequently throughout her life, first to St. Louis, where she met her husband Charles Joseph Walker, a newspaper advertising salesman, and learned about hair care from her brothers, who were barbers. She later sold hair-care products for Annie Moalone, an African American hair-care entrepreneur.

In Denver, Colorado, Walker developed her own product line partly based on her struggles with severe dandruff, baldness, and skin disorders caused by harsh hair and washing products. Walker sold her products door-to-door and taught other Black women how to care for their hair, while her daughter took care of mail-orders and her husband traveled throughout the southern and eastern United States to expand the business.

Walker and her husband moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they opened a beauty parlor and established Lelia College to train hair-care specialists and a national network of sales agents. Her daughter joined them and persuaded her mother to establish an office and beauty salon in New York City’s growing Harlem neighborhood, which became a center of African American culture.

Relocating her businesses to Indianapolis, Indiana, Walker built a factory, hair salon, beauty school, and research laboratory. She employed several thousand women as sales agents and many of her company’s managers and staff were women. Walker provided sales training, and taught employees how to budget and build their own businesses.

Walker then moved to New York City’s Harlem neighborhood before moving to her final home in to Irvington, New York. She became active in political, economic, and social issues, including joining organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Committee of Management of the Harlem Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). She contributed scholarship funds to the Tuskegee Institute, the precursor to Bethune-Cookman University, and other learning institutes. Walker directed two-thirds of future net profits of her estate to charity after her death.

Walker’s company and legacy continued to expand after her death in 1919, with a trademark for the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company registered in 1922. Many of the people she trained and employed went on to have successful businesses of their own, including National Inventors Hall of Fame inductee Marjorie Stewart Joyner, who received a patent for her “permanent wave machine.”