US businesswoman and philanthropist. In 1905 she invented a method for straightening African-Americans' hair and went on to found a beauty business, Madame C J Walker Laboratories. Her sales beauticians, or ‘Walker Agents’, became well known throughout the black communities of the USA and the Caribbean, promoting Madame Walker's philosophy of ‘cleanliness and loveliness’ as aids to advancing the status of African-Americans.
An innovator, Madame Walker organized clubs and conventions for her representatives which recognized not only successful sales, but also philanthropic and education efforts among African-Americans.
Walker was born in Delta, Louisiana. Orphaned at the age of six, she was raised by an elder sister and married to ‘Mr McWilliams’ at the age of 14 in Vicksburg. Widowed at 20 with a daughter, A'Lelia, she moved to St Louis and attended public night schools and worked during the day as a washerwoman. Her method for straightening African-Americans' hair involved her own formula for a pomade, much brushing, and the use of heated combs. Encouraged by her success with this method, she moved to Denver, Colorado, where she married Charles J Walker; she promoted her method and products by travelling about the country giving lecture-demonstrations. Her business became so successful that she opened an office in Pittsburgh in 1908, which she left in charge of her daughter. In 1910 she settled in Indianapolis, where she established the headquarters of Madame C J Walker Laboratories.