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Madam CJ Walker

This is a fun video about Madam CJ Walker. The background images help tell the story and give context to her life, while the talking heads are fun and expressive, keeping students engaged. The description of the video offers some great questions you can ask your students after watching the video. I’ve listed them here for your convenience and added a few of my own.

  • Madam CJ Walker’s life was very hard at first. What do you do to get through tough times?
  • The same person who made $1.50 a day doing laundry went on to become one of the richest women in America. What does that tell you?
  • If you had a lot of money, would you keep it all for yourself or give some to charity? Why?
  • Madam CJ Walker had a problem, losing her hair, that she worked to fix and in the process, she helped many more people with the same problem. Have you ever had to solve a problem for yourself that ended up helping others too?
  • Madam CJ Walker sold her products by going door to door talking to people she didn’t even know, that must have taken a lot of courage. Can you think of another person we’ve been studing for Black History Month that had a lot of courage?


Madam C.J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) was born December 23, 1867, and by May 25, 1919, she would make history by being the first American woman to become a self-made millionaire (self-made meaning she did not inherit her wealth.) Before making this history, in 1913, she donated the largest amount of money by an African American to charity. The donation was for the construction of a YMCA in Indianapolis, Indiana.

She became a millionaire by selling hair products specifically for black men and women. She was frustrated by her own hair loss so she developed products that would nourish and protect her hair type. This type of hair is most commonly found in African American men and women. She started selling her products in 1905 and also opened a beauty school to teach people how to care for this type of hair. There was such a demand for her products and there was nothing on the market like it. She became a millionaire by the time of her death in 1919. She was the first woman (of any race) to accomplish this.

She was also a civil rights activist. In 1917, she traveled to the White House to petition President Woodrow Wilson to outlaw lynching. She fought to make this terrible act of racism illegal at the federal level, meaning it would be illegal for all states.

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