Understanding Prosocial Leadership



In 1906 Sarah Breedlove was born on a Delta Louisiana Plantation after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the first to be born free in her family. Sarah lost her both of her parents at the age of seven and moved in with her older sister and brother-in-law. But, she was abused by a brother-in-law, which caused in her become married at the age of fourteen and then shortly widowed leaving her with a daughter at the age of 20. She decided to move closer to her older brothers who were all barbers. Sarah worked as a laundress to support her and her daughter. Then,  she started losing her hair and went to her brothers for their advice. Her personal interest leads to her starting her own store which brought hair products and home remedies made by Annie Malone.

Sarah moved to Denver to work for Annie Malone as a sales agent and this is where she met Charles Joseph Walker, and they became married. Sarah took on the name of Madam C.J. Walker.  Her husband was a newspaper journalist and he provided free advertisement in the paper for her products. She started going door to door in the South and Southeast lecturing and demonstrating how the products worked on the hair. Her dynamic personality and concern for others who have been marginalized attracted other woman, whom she started training to become empowered and economically independent black women. Her personal business grew. Madam Walker moved her base of operation to Pittsburgh to open the Lelia College where she trained her agents to be “Beauty Culturists”; a couple of years later she had a factory built in Indianapolis where she employed over 3,000 people the majority were door to door sales agents. “I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations… I have built my own factory on my own ground.” (Madam Walker, National Negro Business League Convention, July 1912). She then traveled to Central America and the Caribbean to expand her business and trained more women in the hair and skin care for the black women.

Madam C.J. Walker started becoming politically aware when she moved to New York in 1913. She became a member of the NAACP anti-lynching movement and donated $5,000 and she also made donations to the Black YMCA and to other black organizations. She founded scholarships for women at the Tuskegee Institute and for men at other institutions. She joined a group from Harlem that marched to the White House after the murder of three dozen blacks by the white mob in Harlem. At this point, she started to encourage her agents to become politically aware in the local and state affairs. During a period in our American history, this woman fought against extraordinary circumstance to become the first Black African American woman Millionaire in our history. She believed hard work, even though she was marginalized by society as a black woman and reward for her efforts would always be in question. Sarah also give to those who were in similar positions within society.  

Before her death, she accomplished numerous of things such as being established as a pioneer of the modern black hair care and cosmetic industry, help create the role of the self-made American businesswomen, and definitely set the standard in the African-American community for Corporate and Community giving without looking for something in return.


Submitted by: LaTonya Florence

  • About Us. (n.d.). The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. Retrieved May 5, 2018, from: http://www.schweitzerfellowship.org/about/ Nobel Media AB. (2014).
  • Albert Schweitzer - Biographical. Retrieved May 5, 2018, from:            https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1952/schweitzer-bio.html

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Sources for Sarah Breedlove (Madam C.J. Walker)

Sarah Breedlove (Madam C.J. Walker)

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