Women’s History Month–Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919)

If I asked you to name the first female self-made millionaire in the United States, would you correctly identify Sarah Breedlove, a.k.a. Madam C.J. Walker?

Walker was born in 1867 in Louisiana. She suffered from a scalp issue which resulted in hair loss, and with that in mind, created a line of hair care products. She sold them around the US by traveling and giving demonstrations. She “eventually established Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories to manufacture cosmetics and train sales beauticians. Her savvy business acumen led her to be one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire.”

Did I mention that Walker was African-American, and the daughter of freed slaves? And that her product was specifically geared to the African-American market?

Breedlove went on to donate to a variety of philanthropic causes, including, in 1913, the largest donation by an African-American toward a YMCA. She died in 1919 at the age of 51. At the time, her business was valued at 1 million dollars and her personal worth between 6 and 7 hundred thousand.

In 2015, women owned about 29% of small businesses in the US. From 2007 to 2015, the number of women owned firms grew 68%. For minority women, it grew 265%.

A key finding in a report out last year showed that “Women were more likely than men to introduce products and services that are new to customers and not generally offered by competitors (40 percent compared to 35 percent).”

Things like hair products geared for an African-American market.

Yet…women still are only making up a small percentage of venture capitalist investments. Women owned businesses often have more trouble securing small business loans and at tighter rates.

Reasons vary. But I’ll leave you with this:

“There’s a lot of research that in business, women tend to be judged on performance and men on potential. The same is true in start-up funding in aggregate as well. I felt that we had generally raised based on what we have done,” she [Kathryn Minshew, co-founder and CEO of millennial career site The Muse] says, while male founders raise capital on what they have the potential to do.

Read more about Madame C.J. Walker here.

Happy Women’s History Month!

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