Beyond Beauty: Celebrating Madam C.J. Walker

When we first created GIRLS CAN! CRATE we wanted our crates to be such that ANY little girl that picked up our crate could relate to something about our featured lady. Perhaps the field she was in resonated with the little girl, or the character trait she embodied, or maybe the lady looked like the little girl, or maybe she was a fascinating woman. Something, anything...that's what we wanted. So when it came time to plan out our year and think about who we'd like to feature in February and for Black History Month we kept coming back to Madam C.J. Walker, entrepreneur and self-made millionaire. But, it wasn't for the reason you'd probably expect...

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Most people know Madam C.J. Walker for her beauty products. She created a balm for African American women's hair after her own hair had begun to fall out in part from stress and in part because people at that time didn't bathe as regularly as they do now. Her creation worked on her scalp and soon her hair was growing back. This didn't go unnoticed by the women in her community and soon they began to ask for her hair treatment. Well, this got Madam C.J. Walker thinking and soon she had her balm packaged and was going door to door selling it. She began to see the fruit of her labor in terms of financial gain and was fast becoming a successful businesswoman, but still, this is not the reason we chose to celebrate Madam C.J. Walker. Yes, it's incredibly inspiring to see a woman in the late 1800s/early 1900s create a business empire from the ground up, especially considering that she was the daughter of former slaves. Yes, it's incredibly inspiring to see a woman look around her and see a need and then answer it. But what's really remarkable about Madam C.J. Walker wasn't just her wealth, it was her generosity, her philanthropy, and her heart for giving. 

As a young woman who worked as a washerwoman to provide for her daughter, Madam C.J. Walker (who was born Sara Breedlove) was heavily influenced by the women in her church. These women helped her find washing work and taught her the importance of giving back. It was said that these ladies impressed upon Madam Walker that giving to others was necessary in life--no matter how little or how much you had, you gave. This was a lesson that Madam Walker took to heart and one that she lived from. As her fortune and fame amassed, she became known as much for her giving as she was for her wealth. She set up community centers, created scholarships for women, put her money behind anti-lynching legislation, helped the women in her community, and so much more. As her company grew and she hired women and gave them opportunities to become self-sufficient, Madam Walker not only celebrated the woman who sold the most product but also the woman who gave the most money away. What?! Do you think that is a trait that's celebrated in corporate America today? No! It seems to be the opposite, doesn't it?

This. This is why we wanted to celebrate Madam C.J. Walker. Yes, her achievements in the world of business were amazing and hers is a legacy that endures, but it was her giving nature, her desire to help others that struck us. We want girls to learn about the importance of giving back.  Perhaps they won't be able to give financially, but there's the giving of time, of kindness, of empathy, the giving of a smile to a friend, or a listening ear. That's the legacy of Madam C.J. Walker we want to expose girls to so that they, too can become a generation of givers.