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America’s First Self-Made Millionairess

March 15, 2021

When it comes to building wealth, one of the key benefits of a biblically-based mindset is the ability to give generously and see the fruit of your labor make an impact on the people around you during your lifetime. The woman we celebrate in this blog, Madame C.J. Walker, was both an innovator in business, as well as a pioneer in giving back to God. Born penniless in 1867, she died a millionaire in 1919, after donating a huge portion of her wealth to her church missionary society and local community throughout her life.

Madam C.J. Walker was born as Sarah Breedlove in 1867. Her parents were Louisiana sharecroppers who were born into slavery. Walker was orphaned at age six, married at age 14, and became a widow at age 20. She eventually moved with her daughter to St. Louis, where she found work as a laundress, enrolled in night school courses, and was welcomed and mentored by a local women’s church group. That congregation helped her get on her feet, and later in life she donated much of her wealth to the organization.

After being introduced to haircare product sales, Walker developed a line of her own known as the “Walker System,” named after her husband, Charles J. Walker. Reportedly starting with just $1.05 of savings in her pocket, Walker opened a beauty school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1908, and then moved her business headquarters to Indianapolis in 1910. At the height of production, the Madam C.J. Walker Company employed more than 3,000 people.

One of the most inspiring aspects of Walker’s life is that she didn’t wait for wealth and riches to live a generous life. Her faith taught her to give to those around her when she had very little–even when she only had time, advice, or the labor of her own two hands to give. When she acquired wealth, Walker gave money in strategic ways not only to help her church, but also to help other African American women in the community around her, and she set up her business and vocational beauty schools to do the same. In addition to her business employing and educating thousands of women, paying generous salaries, and offering many opportunities for growth, she also helped establish organizations that supported educational scholarships, homes for the elderly, her local missionary society, and other programs focused on improving women’s lives.

In 1914, the Indianapolis Freeman newspaper interviewed Walker about her experience of giving generously. The journalist referenced 2 Corinthians 9:7 when he wrote about her that: “She takes great stock in the theory that the Lord loves a cheerful giver.1

Because Walker was already practicing generosity, as her wealth grew, so did her commitment to giving. Her story continues to inspire people all over the world through the recent Netflix series based on her life and titled, Self Made.

Madam C.J. Walker’s faith gave her a vision beyond simply becoming a successful and wealthy woman. Like Walker, we realize that it’s not enough to merely accumulate money for the purpose of wealth itself. At Ronald Blue Trust, we strongly believe that you should include generous giving as part of your overall financial strategy so that you not only leave a legacy, but live it as well.

Giving is key to becoming free from the power of money over our lives.

To learn more about how we can help you prioritize your passions and goals for philanthropy, please click here.

March is Women’s History Month, an annual celebration of women’s influence on history, culture, and society. This month provides an opportunity to recognize the contributions of remarkable women who used biblical principles to break barriers and give back to others.

1 https://philanthropy.iupui.edu/news-events/insights-newsletter/2020-issues/october-2020-issue-1.html

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