Madam C.J. Walker Gets a Netflix Close-Up

A turn-of-the-century hair-care magnate who shared her wealth gets the spotlight

Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker | Official Trailer | Netflix

Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove in Louisiana in 1867, was the most successful black wellness mogul of her day. Now a new Netflix series will show how this enterprising daughter of freed slaves empowered generations of black women to prosper.

Breedlove was in her 30s when she began treating her bald spots with beeswax, copper sulfate and sulfur. She found it so effective she sold it to other black women door-to-door in Denver. In 1908, having married a Colorado journalist named Charles J. Walker, she launched a beauty school in Pittsburgh with the profits from “Mrs. Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.” Soon she was training a legion of women who earned a living selling her products.

Indeed, her most significant legacy might be “the opportunities she provided for other black women to become economically autonomous through selling her products,” says Crystal Marie Moten, a curator at the National Museum of American History.

Walker died in 1919, and even after making substantial donations to organizations in the black community, her fortune was estimated at $600,000 to $700,000—or $8.9 million to $10.7 million today.

Read more about Madam C.J. Walker in this story from a Smithsonian magazine collaboration with Wondery.

Madam C.J. Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower
Tin of Walker’s signature product. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from Dawn Simon Spears and Alvin Spears, Sr.

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