Born Sarah Walker on December 23, 1867 (Died May 25, 1919)
Sarah Walker grew up in poverty on a plantation in Louisiana, where she worked in the cotton fields. Her parents were both former slaves and Sarah received no formal education in her youth, not learning to read or write until adulthood. At age 14 she married only to see her husband lyched by a white mob two years later.
Sarah worked as a domestic for little pay. One day while talking to some friends she came up with the idea to create a hot comb with specially spaced teeth to soften black hair and a special hair creme to repair damaged hair. She eventually started selling her products door-to-door and with the aid of her second husband, began a mail order business. After her marriage ended in divorce, Sarah and her daughter established a beauty school and a chain of salons in the U.S., Caribbean, and South America.
By 1914, the company "Madame C.J. Walker's" was grossing well over a million dollars a year and Sarah became the first African American woman millionaire. She contributed thousands of dollars to causes supporting education for Black women, became a major patron of the Harlem Renaissance, and built a 34-room mansion.
When she died in 1919, her daughter took over the business (which still survives today) stipulating that the company be exclusively managed by female heirs.