Madam CJ Walker business empire 1939
Black History,  Teaching Ideas,  True Stories

Black Pioneers You Should Know: Madam CJ Walker

Although February is Black History Month, and March is Women’s History Month, it’s about time that all our history was every month. Black history and Women’s history are American history, and so let’s start treating them as such. You can learn about a modern day space explorer here, but today we are going back in time to learn about America’s first self-made female millionaire – Madam CJ Walker.

Sarah Breedlove, public domain

Sarah Breedlove (better known as Madam CJ Walker) was born in 1867 to former slaves. She grew up in poverty and by the age of 20 was a widowed woman bringing up a two year old daughter alone. To try to make money she took in laundry. Due to a scalp condition, Sarah began to lose her hair so she started experimenting with some of the laundry chemicals she has used, hoping to find a cure. She discovered a mixture of chemicals that when applied helped her hair to grow back. She was living proof that her treatment worked, and other women wanted to know what she was using.

Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records; Phoenix, AZ

With a small amount of money that she had saved up she began bottling and selling her lotion. Her second husband persuaded her to call her growing company ‘Madam CJ Walker’ and she traveled across the south and eastern seaboard to cities with African American women. She had a previously untapped market of buyers. Before long, Sarah had amassed a team of saleswomen who went door to door demonstrating the product and selling.

By 1910 she decided to use some of the profits from her growing business to help force change for African Americans. She became very involved in the NAACP, setting up a foundations for scholarships for black students and donating to campaigns. When Sarah died in 1919 she left a fortune of over one million dollars, two thirds of which she donated to charity, and an impressive sales team generating hundreds of millions of dollars in today’s money.

This vanity mirror craft and writing activity is a great way to record what students have learned about Madam CJ Walker – available from my TPT store.

In this craft and writing activity, students can record what they have learned with this scaffolded writing frame with sentence stems, or write about an invention that will make them rich AND help others.

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