- Madam C J Walker
- first first
- United States ()
The first woman to earn a personal fortune of more than $1,000,000 is Madam C J Walker (USA; born Sarah Breedlove), whose net worth was estimated to have exceeded $1 million at the time of her death in 1919.
Madam CJ Walker was born in Delta, Louisiana, on 23 Dec 1867. She was the fifth child of Owen and Minerva Breedlove and the first not to be born into slavery. She married at 14 but was widowed (with a young daughter) by 20. Around 1904, while living in St Louis, Missouri, she began working as a sales agent for a hair-care company run by Annie Turnbo Malone, before striking out on her own with "Madam C J Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower" in 1905.
Walker's company sold a variety of hair care products targeted at African-American women like herself, whose needs were not met by the mainstream brands of the time. She had a gift for marketing and promotion, constantly travelling around America, giving presentations and rallying her army of around 25,000 sales agents.
By the time of her death on 25 May 1919, at the age of 51, Madam Walker was running a business with an annual revenue of over $500,000 and had amassed a large and diverse real estate portfolio which included an elegant mansion "Villa Lewaro" in Westchester County, New York and a palatial townhouse in Harlem, New York City.
The exact extent of Madam Walker's wealth is hard to ascertain with certainty. She denied that she was a millionaire during her lifetime, but her susbstantial real estate holdings (her property in New York state alone was valued at $700,000 at the time of her death) combined with her controlling interest in a $500,000-a-year firm, bring her estimated net worth to well over $1,000,000. There are other businesswomen who may have hit the million-dollar-mark earlier – including Madam Walker's former employer Annie Turnbo Malone (1869–1957), real-estate magnate Bridget "Biddy" Mason (1818–91) and financier Mary Ellen Pleasant (1814–1904) – but their finances are not nearly as well documented.