How Madam C.J. Walker Broke The Glass Ceiling

Modern women are still smashing through the glass ceiling that keeps us from advancing in the business world, but it's always good to look back at the ones who got the ball rolling. In the earlier days of our country, the odds and even the law were stacked heavily against women. And if you were a Black woman living during the early 1900s, even the most basic parts of daily life were even more perilous (via That's why Madam C.J. Walker, who started her own incredibly successful line of hair care products catering specifically to Black women, deserves her place in the spotlight.

Madam C.J. Walker was born on December 23, 1867, as Sarah Breedlove. She later took her husband's name to become the woman we know today as Madam C.J. Walker (via National Geographic). There was a clear deficit in the amount of Black hair care products on the market, and Walker realized that she could do something to help. Through years of hard work and dedication, she built a successful business that would uplift the Black community during a time when Black people were seen under the law as less than human.

She is the first American woman to become a millionaire

During the early 1900s, Black hair products were scarce. Even though slavery was officially over in America, our nation still had a long way to go to make the land a place that catered to all its citizens. Per Stylist, Madame C.J. Walker and her mentor Annie Turnbo Malone saw this huge gap in the market of hair care products for Black women and decided they would step in to provide their community with what was currently lacking.

That was the beginning of a hair care empire. Although she is often wrongly attributed to being the one to start the trend of relaxing your hair, her official website states that this is not the case. Her first product was actually the Miracle Hair Grower. The powerful hair-growing formula came to her in a dream, and she decided to make it a reality. It was the kick-off product that would launch Walker into the business world like no woman had ever been. In fact, the venture was so successful that Walker became the first American female millionaire (via Fortune).

She also got other Black women started in business

If you've seen the Netflix show "Self Made," which was inspired by the life of Madame C.J. Walker, you'll know that the business-minded tycoon wasn't only interested in seeing herself break through the glass ceiling. She also wanted to bring as many women as she could with her, and she wouldn't let any man stand in their way.

After establishing her brand and building a beauty supply factory in Indianapolis, Walker set to work on bringing other women under her wing. Per NBC News, the entrepreneur built training schools that taught future businesswomen the "Walker method" of selling hair products that promoted healthy Black hair.

Wanting to share her story with the Black community, particularly Black women, Walker asked Booker T. Washington for a chance to speak at the 1912 National Negro Business League convention in Chicago. After being rejected, she showed up to the meeting unannounced, stood up in the audience, and gave her speech right there. Her need to inspire her community had to be the driving force behind her bold actions. Philanthropy Roundtable, a charity organization based in Washington, D.C., reports that Walker told Washington, "I am in the business world, not for myself alone, but to do all the good I can for the uplift of my race."