Just a few blocks from my house is Madam CJ Walker park. It’s in a historic neighborhood in Denver, CO. It’s also close to the high school I attended. This park today is a place my husband and I love to go to with our daughter to practice soccer and see other friends from the neighborhood. It’s one of the parks that I often take time to read the history of the park and love sharing it with my daughter. The story of Madam CJ Walker is one of hardship, hard work, perseverance, financial independence and philanthropy. She is the symbol of what a strong woman looks like.
Madam CJ Walker was the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S. She was a beautiful black woman who didn’t have the easiest beginning to hear life. She was born to former slaves, was orphaned by the age of 7, a mother by 17, and then widowed by 20. She grew up feeling like she was at the bottom of society. She worked by washing clothes and earned just $1.50 a day, all while going to school at night time when her daughter was just 2 years old. Things were challenging to say the least. These difficult times led to stress and it took a toll on her and her well-being.
Madam CJ Walker developed a scalp disorder that caused her to lose much of her hair. This is a devastating experience for any woman to have to endure. She couldn’t just accept this fate and over time she developed her own formula to help her hair grow back. As she shared what she learned with other women she realized she had an opportunity to make a serious change in the lives of countless women. She traveled town to town, going door to door to teach others how to use her formula to solve the issue of hair loss. When she started her business in 1905, she had just $1.50 to her name. Just think about that for a minute.
She started her business in Denver, CO, living just down the road from where I live today. She’s an inspiration to me and I hope she is an inspiration to my daughter who is growing up in the same neighborhood. She trained countless women to sell beauty products and by 1910 she had 5,000 people working for her all across the country, with many of them being black women. She empowered them to work hard, but also encouraged them to give back to their community. She created clubs for her employees and even gave them bonuses when they did great things helping out their own communities. She also donated to educational causes, black charities, and much more.
Madam Walker only lived to the age of 51. She passed away from hypertension. At the time of her death, her personal estate combined with the value of her company exceeded a million dollars. It’s an amazing accomplishment for such an amazing woman. She had plans to have an Indianapolis headquarters for her business and even after her passing, those plans continued. The Walker Building headquarters was completed in 1927.
Last year Netflix released Self Made the story of Madam CJ Walker staring Octavia Spencer and Tiffany Haddish. It is binge worthy. She is a true inspiration for so many woman and will always be one to me.