The Entrepreneur Who Launched Madam CJ Walker’s Career

Diploma Day at Poro College, 1920
Abeni Jones
January 26, 2020

Many of us know of Madame C.J. Walker, the “first” Black American woman millionaire. The truth is, Walker’s incredible success might have never happened without the woman who made it possible: her former boss, Annie Malone!

Amidst the racism of the 20th century, many Black people straightened their hair. But the products of the day were harmful to the scalp. 

Despite never completing high school due to persistent illness, Malone had a passion for chemistry. She’d use it to change Black women’s beauty forever.

Malone invented a less-damaging hair-straightening product, which was a huge hit. Soon she was running a massively successful business!

Not content to just succeed, however, she made sure to give back and empower her people. She hired countless Black women as sales agents - including Sarah Davis, later known as Madam C.J. Walker - and opened some of the first cosmetology schools for Black women.

Malone was soon a millionaire - but also a generous philanthropist. She gave away most of her wealth to charities serving Black people, and her pioneering business was a major employer of Black women when good jobs were scarce.

Though she’s largely been overlooked in favor of her protegée and rival, Madam C.J. Walker, her contributions to Black women’s empowerment and her inspiring story deserve just as much attention!

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