BHM: Walking into Hair-story with Madame CJ Walker


Tyra Hughes

Black women have Madame CJ Walker to thank for the beauty and pride that they have in their hair. 

Born in 1867 as Sarah Breedlove and the daughter of two former slaves in Delta, Louisiana, Madame CJ Walker grew up being free. Before she became the first black millionaire, Walker faced poverty and depended on an income less than 2 dollars a day. 

As a result of her poverty and her inability to afford proper plumbing, a lack of hygiene caused Walker to lose her hair at a young age. With no way to regularly wash her hair, Madame CJ Walker was subject to bacteria, lice and infections in her hair.

Walker turned to Annie Turnbo, a black inventor with a background in chemistry, who created a hair growth product called  “The Great Wonderful Hair Grower”. The two worked closely before Walker went on to develop her own business. Following her marriage with a successful businessman named Charles CJ Walker, Walker created her own hair product called the “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower” 

Though she faced criticism from Booker T Washington for influencing white beauty standards in her hair straightening products, Madame CJ Walker’s business brought a lot of pride to black women who were facing similar struggles in their hair. 

In her later years, Madame CJ Walker recalled the success of her hair products:  “Some of the remedies were grown in Africa, but I sent for it, put it on my scalp, and in a few weeks my hair was coming in faster than it had ever fallen out.”