Sarah Breedlove was born in 1867. She was an orphan at age 8, a wife at 14, a mother at 17 and a widow at 19. Breedlove supported her family for 18 years as a laundress, but in the early 1900s, she reinvented herself as Madam C.J. Walker, creator of the Walker Hair Care System.
Breedlove had suffered extreme hair loss, which was common for black women of the time, due to scalp disease, bad diet, damaging hair products and infrequent washing. She claimed to pray to God for assistance and purported that a man appeared to her in a dream with the recipe for pomade that would regrow and settle her hair. The pomade worked for her and for other women she knew, so she began marketing her "Wonderful Hair Grower."
Madam C.J. Walker's method of selling her hair care system was just as innovative as the system herself. She was one of the first people that to use direct sales; she hired women to serve as door-to-door salespeople, and she taught them how to use all of the products in a university she founded. Madam C.J. Walker was believed to be the first female millionaire, though records later showed that she was about $400,000 short [source: Jefferson]. Still, the former Sarah Breedlove amassed quite a fortune for her time, much of which she donated to the YMCA and the NAACP.