Life was hard on Sarah Breedlove from an early age. Her parents died when she was a child. She wound up marrying young. And her husband died by the time she was 20.
When Sarah Breedlove took her children and moved to St. Louis Missouri, the middle class women in the church she attended helped her to see herself as more than a washer woman. She learned philanthropy and entrepreneurship, both, from these church women. And she started her first charity drive at this black church
When a scalp condition caused her to lose her hair she became ashamed of her appearance.
She started her hair company by finding a solution for her own scalp condition. Later, when asked how she started her hair care business she would say that she prayed for a solution and a big African man appeared to her in a dream. She wound up ordering ingredients from Africa and used them to create a a shampoo and an ointment. With her own scalp healed and her hair began growing as it never had before she became a walking advertisement for product she was making in her own home.
Eventually she was selling her product door to door.
In 1906 she married Charles Joseph Walker and Ms. C J Walker was born. Mr. Walker would help her with advertising the business. They would travel door to door together, selling her products and demonstrating the products. They would eventually divorce when Madam Walker wanted to expand the business and Mr. Walker did not.
Madam Walker would eventually open a beauty school and then a factory. She hired black women to be "Walker Agents." Forty to fifty years after slavery, there were few job opportunities for black women other than that of domestic, with a few lucky women able to become teachers and nurses. But thousands of black women gained economic independence working for Madam C J Walker.
As her company grew, she encouraged the black women that worked for her to stand for racial equality and the equality of women. She wanted her Walker Agents to show themselves not just as professionals but as people who give back to the community. During her 1917 Convention for Walker Agents, Madam Walker gave prizes to women that sold the most product and got the most clients but also to women who gave the most to charity.
At their Beauty Salons the walker agents would talk to clients about what black women could do to help their churches, their schools in their communities. (I'm reading a book right now that talks black women like these making the black church strong enough, connected to one another enough to make it good base for The Modern Civil Rights Movement a few decades later)
By 1910 The Walker Company had employed some 5000 black female agents around the world, and averaged revenues of about $1000 dollars a day, seven days a week...Upon her death in 1919, her will stipulated that two-thirds of her fortune go to various charities and that her company always be controlled by a woman
Contributor to the Black Women's Club Movement, Madam Walker was also a part of black suffrage and also the anti-lynching movement. She was a signer on the letter to President Woodrow Wilson, demanding that he make lynching a federal crime. She seems to have counted Ida B Wells, the original anti-lynching activist, as a friend and also contributed money to the NAACP's anti-lynching campaign.
She became famous nationwide when she contributed $1000 to the building fund of a YMCA for young black boys. And it sounds like she may have built something in Indianapolis that sounds like one of the first malls, the Madam Walker Theater Center....
Madam C. J. Walker
Employer Of Black Women
First Woman in the United States, of any color, to become a self-made millionaire
|Walker told her friend Ida B. Wells, the journalist and anti-lynching activist,|
that after working so hard all her life
— first as a farm laborer, then as a maid and a cook,
and finally as the founder of an international hair care enterprise
— she wanted a place to relax and garden and entertain her friends.
She also wanted to make a statement,
so it was no accident that she purchased four and a half acres in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York,
not far from Jay Gould’s Lyndhurst and John D. Rockefeller’s Kykuit
amidst America’s wealthiest families.
She directed....the architect
— to position the 34-room mansion close to the village’s main thoroughfare
so it was easily visible by travelers en route from Manhattan to Albany...
[H]er new [white] neighbors were “puzzled” and “gasped in astonishment”
when they learned that a black woman was the owner.
“Impossible!” they exclaimed. “No woman of her race could afford such a place.”
ANNIE TURNBO MALONE
BUT WITH THE HELP OF AN AUNT SHE WOULD CREATE CHEMICAL STRAIGHTENERS FOR BLACK HAIR
While experimenting with hair and different hair care products, she developed and manufactured her own line of non-damaging hair straighteners, special oils, and hair-stimulant products for African-American women. She named her new product “Wonderful Hair Grower” To promote her new product, Turnbo sold the Wonderful Hair Grower in bottles from door-to-door. She began to revolutionize hair care methods for all African Americans....
One of her selling agents, Sarah Breedlove (who became known as Madam C. J. Walker when she set up her own business), encouraged Turnbo to copyright her products under the name "Poro" because of what she called fraudulent imitations and to discourage counterfeit versions.
Malone's business thrived until she wound up in a battle for control of her business with her second husband, Aaron Eugene Malone. She'd left some of the day to day affairs in his hands as manager. And he eventually claimed he was responsible for 1/2 of the success of the business. She suffered another blow when a former employee also sued her, claiming credit for Annie Malone's success. This lawsuit forced her to sell property in order to pay the settlement. Eventually, the government would come after for back taxes.
* * * * *
Like the light bulb, the relaxer probably had multiple simultaneous inventors in multiple places around the world that didn't know about each other. So I'm not sure who invented it first.