Pretty Pennies
20 Jun 2024

This beautiful tin dates from between 1910 and 1919. It was part of a cosmetic and beauty empire of Madame CJ Walker – an incredible story of an American hero. She was born Sarah Breedlove to slave parents on a plantation in Louisiana. She had five siblings, who were also born into slavery – but she was born after the Emancipation Proclamation. Orphaned at age 7, she moved to Vicksburg Mississippi with her sister, where she worked from age 10 as a domestic servant. She received about 3 months worth of formal education, taken in lessons at Sunday School literacy lessons.

At age 14 she married Moses McWilliams, to get away from her abusive brother-in-law. The pair had one daughter together. Moses died in 1887. She and her daughter moved to St. Louis, where three of her brothers lived and where she worked as a laundress, earning barely more than a dollar a day.

Sarah remarried in 1894 but left her second husband shortly afterwards. She began selling cosmetics to make extra money.

In 1906 she married Charles Joseph Walker – and then became known as Madame CJ Walker. The couple divorced in 1912. His advice on marketing and selling products helped her a lot, and she started selling her own products, first door to door, and then from a mail order operation. She moved to Denver, then Pittburgh before settling in Indianapolis.

The Front of her “Wonderful Hair Grower” tin.

She eventually had a national network of sales agents, employed 20,000 women, gave a lot of money to charity… Madam CJ Walker was, you see, the first female self-made millionaire in America.

The back of the tin, with directions for use.

Born into slavery, ending life as a philanthropist. And that whole story around a little tin can of Hair Grower.

The tin seen from the side.