Madam C.J. Walker: A self-made millionaire as written about in the newspapers

Madam C.J. Walker: A self-made millionaire as written about in the newspapers

A brief look back on how a few newspapers covered the life of Madam C.J. Walker.

Source: Madame C.J. Walker Papers
Manuscript and Visual Collections Department
William Henry Smith Memorial Library
Indiana Historical Society

Sarah Breedlove was born in Delta, La., on December 23, 1867, the daughter of Owen and Minerva Anderson Breedlove, who were formerly enslaved. Her siblings had been born before emancipation, where she was free.

At age 7, in 1874 Sarah’s mother and father died. Sarah and her older sister Louvenia, worked on cotton fields around Delta, LA and Vicksburg, MS.

Sarah would get married at 14 to Moses McWilliams. In 1885, when she was age 18 they had one daughter, Lelia (later known as “A’Lelia Walker”). Moses McWilliams died in 1887. She would later moved to St. Louis, where a few brothers were barbers. She became a laundress.

In 1894, Sarah would get marrying again to John Davis. They would later divorce 1903.

Sarah suffered from alopecia and tried home remedies. She finally found a solution of another African American businesswoman named Annie (Pope Turnbo) Malone who had founded her own company in 1900. Walker enrolled at Malone’s Poro College and later became a Poro agent. Sarah McWilliams moved to Denver in 1905 to sell Malone’s “Wonderful Hair Grower”.

She was later married to Charles Joseph Walker in 1906 and later adopted the title Madam C.J. Walker. She then stopped selling Malone’s product and created her own formula.

Madam C.J. Walker would travel around the South promoting her products. In 1908, she opened her business in Pittsburgh and opened Lelia College to train woman her process. She would divorce Charles J. Walker in 1912. Mr. Walker would die in 1926.

In 1910, Madam Walker would move to Indianapolis. There she opened a factory lab and a beauty school. In September 1911, with the help of Robert Brokenburr, she incorporated her company.

Between 1911 to 1919, her annual sales increased and she had several thousand agents around the United States selling her full line of
products and educate customers in hygiene and personal appearance.

Madam Walker moved to New York to a house in Harlem. After an unsuccessful attempt to buy an estate on Long Island, she purchased a four-and-a-half-acre estate at Irvington-on-Hudson. Madam Walker hired an African American architect Vertner W. Tandy to design her mansion. Tandy studied architecture at Tuskegee Institute and graduated in 1904 and late studied architecture at Cornell University where he graduated in 1908. Tandy was the first African American to be licensed as an architect in the state of New York.

After Madam Walker’s death, her affairs were divided into two categories, distinct yet interrelated: first, the company; second, the estate. In the company, A’Lelia Walker Robinson (who married Wiley Wilson, whom she divorced in 1924) was president; F.B. Ransom remained manager and attorney. Actual management of the company was the responsibility of Ransom and the profits went entirely to A’Lelia and the estate. The company owed the federal government a large amount of back income taxes from the World War I period.

For a period before her mother’s death, A’Lelia had been quite active in the operation of the New York beauty parlor, and had shown interest in the general affairs of the company. In the 1920s, however, she became much less active, spending her time largely in travel, or at Villa Lewaro or the townhouse at 108 West 136th Street. She became a leading hostess of the Harlem Renaissance, giving lavish parties.

In 1927 the Walker Company, partly because of prevailing prosperity and partly to keep up with its competitors, built a new factory building at the corner of West Street and Indiana Avenue in Indianapolis.

Just two years later, however, the Depression struck, sales dwindled drastically, and the company found itself saddled, not only with the debt on the Walker Building, but also with the expenses of Villa Lewaro and the needs of A’Lelia and the estate. The beauty parlor on 136th Street was running at a loss; another in Philadelphia was making no profit. Both these parlors were closed, and the Harlem building was leased to the city of New York.

Efforts were made to sell Villa Lewaro, but buyers for large estates were scarce, and the title to the property was complicated by the fact that the NAACP was a sort of residuary legatee.

An auction of the furnishings was held in 1930. The building itself was later sold in 1932 to the Companions of the Forest, a white women’s benevolent organization.

Harold Doley, an African American investment banker and his wife, Helena bought the estate in 1993.

In the midst of all these problems, A’Lelia Walker Kennedy died in 1931 at the age of 46, in Long Branch, N.J..

A’Lelia’s will left her stock in the Walker Company to her adopted daughter, Mae Walker Perry, the other half to F.B. Ransom, with instruction that at his death it should go to his daughter A’Lelia. The will was contested in a suit brought by Willie Powell, son of Madam Walker’s sister Louvenia, and by Anjetta Breedlove, Madam Walker’s niece. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed.

Mae Walker Perry became president of the company, and Ransom continued as general manager. Actual control remained primarily in Ransom’s hands. This situation continued until her death in 1945 and his in 1947. During this period, and on into the 1960s, Violet Reynolds, secretary, and Marie Overstreet, treasurer, both of whose connection with the company had begun during Madam Walker’s life continued their work with the Walker Company.

At Ransom’s death, his share of the company stock went to his daughter, A’Lelia Ransom Nelson, who was elected vice-president in 1947 and president in 1953. A’Lelia Mae Perry Bundles, daughter of Mae Walker Perry, became president of the company after her mother’s death and while still a chemistry student at Howard University.

Because of a suit filed by Bundles’ father, Marion Perry, she stepped down as president. She later rejoined the company after the lawsuit was settled and remained vice president and active in day-today company affairs until her death in l976. Robert L. Brokenburr, who had acted as Ransom’s assistant, served as general manager from 1947 to 1955, and as chairman of the board until his death in 1974. Willard B. Ransom, Freeman B. Ransom’s son, became general manager in 1955, serving until 1971.

Both Brokenburr and Willard Ransom were known in their own right for their activities outside the company. Brokenburr, who served twelve years as a deputy prosecuting attorney, was the first African American admitted to membership in the Indiana Bar Association; he was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court in 1953. He won some landmark cases concerning segregation in theaters and in housing. The first African American to serve in the Indiana Senate, he was elected as a Republican member in 1940, 1944, 1952, and 1956. He was the author of important legislation on racial matters. President Dwight Eisenhower appointed him an alternate delegate to the United Nations in 1956. He was the second president of the local branch of the NAACP, and served on the boards of Hampton Institute and the United Negro College Fund. He also worked for Flanner House and the YMCA.

Willard Ransom, a graduate of Talladega College and Harvard Law School, was state president of the NAACP, and was active in the civil rights movement in other ways. He was a director of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, and a longtime trustee of the YMCA. He supported Henry Wallace and the Progressive party in 1948.

After 1947, the Perry family filed several legal actions to gain control of the Walker Company. These cases were finally settled in an arrangement whereby Mae Perry’s daughter, A’Lelia Mae Perry Bundles, became vice-president; Mae Perry’s husband, Marion R. Perry, was made a director; and her daughter’s husband, S. Henry Bundles, joined the Walker staff as general sales manager.

Over the years, the company’s products expanded to include cleansing cream, cold cream, vanishing cream, toothpaste, face powder, rouge, skin brightener, bath oil and powder, perfume, and deodorant. A hair conditioner called Satin Tress was introduced with considerable fanfare in 1948.

At various times there were beauty schools in Indianapolis, Chicago, New York, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Dallas, Washington, and Tulsa.

1911

$10,000 in 1911 = $272,292 in 2020

Home of Madam C.J. Walker – Villa Lewaro located in Irvington, New York

1912

1913

1913 Madam C.J. Walker, second from left, poses with fellow dignitaries during the 1913 grand opening of a YMCA on Senate Avenue. Freeman Ransom, Walker’s attorney, stands behind the hair-care entrepreneur. President of Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) Booker T. Washington is seen third from left.

(Photo: Madam C.J. Walker Collection/Indiana Historical Society)

1914 – Annie M. Pope Turnbo-Malone
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1915 – Annie M. Pope Turnbo-Malone
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1915
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1915 – Annie M. Pope Turnbo-Malone
$3,500 in 1915 = $89,640 in 2020
Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone (August 9, 1869– May 10, 1957) was an African American businesswoman, inventor and philanthropist. She was one of the first African American women to become a millionaire. In 1902, Turnbo moved to St. Louis. Malone lived modestly, giving thousands of dollars to the local black YMCA and the Howard University College of Medicine. One of her agents was Madame C. J. Walker. Walker learned well from Malone.

1916

$1.19 in 1916 = $29.60 in 2020

1917

1919 – Annie M. Pope Turnbo-Malone

Poro College was founded as a cosmetics school and named after the Poro society—a secret organization in West Africa that exemplified physicality and spirituality. Not only did Poro College act as a training center to nurture and style black hair, but it was also a significant source of employment for African Americans, especially women.


COURTESY OF THE MISSOURI HISTORY MUSEUM
Poro College, at Pendleton and St. Ferdinand Avenues, circa 1926

1919

$1,000,000 in 1919 = $15,677,454 in 2020

1920

1923

1927 – Annie M. Pope Turnbo-Malone

1930
$350,000 in 1930 = $5,294,578 in 2020

Home of Madam C.J. Walker – Villa Lewaro located in Irvington, New York

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