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Madam C.J. Walker:

America's First Black Woman Millionaire


Today's snack: Since today's Treat is about someone who made a fortune selling specialty hair products, let's make curlers - CARROT curlers, that is. Take a vegetable peeler and the longest carrot you can find. Peel the widest, longest carrot peel you can make. Be careful not to cut yourself! Make as many more as you can from that carrot. Now roll each peel up as tight as you can without breaking it. Stick a wooden toothpick through the roll to hold it tight. Plunge your carrot curls into a bowl of ice and water. Wait 15-20 minutes. Now take the toothpicks out. Your carrots should stay crisp and curly - a great, healthy and pretty snack.




For today's Treat,

either schedule a field trip to a

local beauty salon for a tour,

or ask a cosmetician to come and present

the products and supplies used in that job.

Of course, it's always fun to have one student

or staff member be a "guinea pig" for a

hair care demonstration!



One of the country's most distinguished businesswomen was the daughter of Louisiana plantation slaves. Hers is an all-American "rags to riches" story, as she went on to found a major company that made and sold hair products for African-American women. She became a millionaire with a 400-acre estate where she entertained American and European superstars.


She was Madam C.J. Walker, 1867-1919, said to be America's first black woman millionaire. Among other honors, after her death she received the Torches of Life Award from the Louisiana Black History Hall of Fame.



Walker, an orphan, was born on a cotton plantation near Tallulah, La., and was married at 14. She had a child at 17, and was widowed at age 20. She moved to St. Louis and worked as a washerwoman, making $1.50 a day, but was able to save enough money, even as a single mother, to send her daughter to college.


She moved to Denver in 1905 and, with just $2 in savings and help from her husband, she started the Walk Co. producing beauty products for black women. Later, she moved to Indianpolis and established a factory as well as the first of several beauty schools around the country.


The products were sold Tupperware-style, by agents who made personal relationships with their customers and taught them specifically how to use the products successfully. The group of agents grew to more than 20,000 across the United States and in Central America and the Caribbean. Walker gave speeches all around the country, promoting the confidence and self-esteem that come from maintaining a good personal appearance.


Eventually, Walker bought a 400-acre property at Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y., and hired black architect Vertner W. Tandy to design and build a $350,000 mansion with a formal Italian garden and swimming pool. She became a noted philanthropist for African-American charities, protested segregation in the military during World War I.


In 1998, a commemorative stamp honoring Madam Walker was issued by the U.S. Postal Service as part of its Black Heritage series.


More history and documents about Walker are housed at the William Henry Smith Memorial Library, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, Ind.


By Susan Darst Williams Multiculturalism 02 2008

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