Madam C.J. Walker—Leader in Philanthropy and Successful Business Woman

9, 10, 11, 12

Madam C. J. Walker, successful African American business woman, supported many causes with the profits of her business. We become aware of the many ways people give.

PrintOne 45-Minute Session

Analyze the impact that Madam C. J. Walker had on improving her community.

  • Madam C.J. Walker
  • The Faces of Science: African Americans in Science


  1. Anticipatory Set: 

    Imagine doing laundry before the invention of electric powered machines. It was a long and backbreaking process. Water had to be pumped and heated on a wood stove. Then it was poured into tubs where clothing was scrubbed by hand, then hung to dry. Ironing was also tedious. Irons had to be heated on hot stoves since there was no electric power. Those who could afford it often chose to take their laundry to someone who would do all this hard work for them.

    Madam C.J. Walker did this hard work for others for many years, then developed her own products for beauty care and built a very successful business during a time that few opportunities were open to women of any color. Furthermore, she did not forget others when she became wealthy but worked to support worthy projects and encouraged her employees to do the same.

  2. Read about Madam C. J. Walker by researching her philanthropic role in different issues and events.

    She was the daughter of ex-slaves and sharecroppers who lived on a Louisiana cotton plantation. When her parents died she worked first as a domestic servant and then worked for seventeen years in St. Louis, Missouri, laundering clothes. In her late thirties she began a line of beauty products for African American women and opened a string of beauty parlors and beauty training schools. Highly successful, she began supporting African American causes with both money and personal involvement. Her giving was focused on helping African Americans gain the rights of full citizenship and counteract discrimination. She supported education and social services. She showed people they could be successful in business and they were capable of making a difference in their communities.

    She became the first woman to be a self-made millionaire in the United States.

  3. Analyze the impact Madam C. J. Walker had on her community by discussing the following questions:

    • Why is Madam C. J. Walker considered a philanthropist? 
    • Who benefited from Madam C. J. Walker's philanthropy? 
    • Even though doctors warned Madam C. J. Walker that she had to "slow down," she refused and consequently died in her early fifties. Why do you think she chose to use her money and time this way rather than relax and enjoy the life of the wealthy?
    • How was she demonstrating civic responsibility (acting for the good of the public)?
  4. When someone has limited power, philanthropy that uses time, talent, and treasure for the common good is an effective path for impacting change. How can young people use philanthropy as a means to gain power or expand their voice and influence to make a difference? 

Cross Curriculum 

Students will develop a plan demonstrating how responsible citizens today might act in improving their communities using local programs as models.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Analyze philanthropic traditions of diverse cultural groups and their contributions to civil society.
      2. Benchmark HS.6 Describe the role that growth in personal wealth plays in the changing types of philanthropy for minority groups and women.
      3. Benchmark HS.7 Identify and give examples of the important roles women and minorities have played in the civil society sector in history.