Madam Walker Beauty Culturists Union Convention Ribbon
Today’s post is by Jennie Rigsby
Madame Walker revolutionized the way African American did business in the 20th Century. It would only seem fitting that the incredible woman she was, was able to push the boundaries of business further than any African American male or female had ever done before her. When I first began this project at the Madame Walker Theatre I was not familiar with her story. However as this project has progressed throughout the semester I have become more and more inspired by what she was able to accomplish. Like the other great business tycoons of the early 1900’s Madame Walker worked hard to spread her business across the United States. Yet no one can argue that Madame Walker was a unique individual and her approach to business was just as unique. She devoted her wealth to helping other women, especially the women who worked for her. Madame Walker was interested in the well being of everyone not just herself. It was her idea to organize her agents into chapters and convene a convention that would help motivate her agents to continue to succeed but also make them aware of the impact they could have on local charities to help advance their race.
In August of 1917 Madame Walker held the first National Convention of her agents in Philadelphia at the Union Baptist Church (http://www.ubcphila.org/). 200 delegates were able to make it to the convention from all over the United States. Madame Walker had been working diligently to arrange the convention since the idea came to her, even though some of her close associates were skeptical about the idea. The convention was a great success for Madame Walker. Over the four day period, she managed to achieve all the goals she had set out for her first convention. I can only imagine her joy when her agents gathered together. This setting allowed for Madame Walker’s agents to share their own stories of success just as Madame Walker had been doing when she toured the country (1). The stories the agents shared must have been the greatest confirmation for Madam Walker, because of her idea she enabled other women to rise above poverty. Walker’s agents were given ribbons to wear throughout the convention. The ribbon had a small picture of Madame Walker suspended from a metal badge that identified the wearer as a member. The bottom of the ribbon identified the ribbon and the wearer being part of the National Convention of Madame Walker Agents.
From the Minutes of the First National Convention of the Madame C. J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America several agents told their own personal stories of transformation (2). One story that was similar among many agents, was how these women went from living on five dollars a week to two hundred and fifty dollars a week. As Madame Walker along with other beauty pioneers allowed African American women the option to rise above a washer woman to a beauty agent who could support their families. The United States Census from 1910 to 1920 reported 12,666 African Americans employed as beauty culturists (3).
Keynote speakers for the convention included other influential African American business leaders, including George Knox the editor of the Freeman and S. Willie Layton the National Baptist Convention’s Women’s Auxiliary President (4). The convention focused on the business of the agents as well as letting the public in for some sessions. As Madame Walker was so dedicated to philanthropy, she impressed those same ideals onto her agents during the convention. She awarded five hundred dollars in prizes to agents who had donated the most to local charities, highest sales figures, and trained the most new agents. Madame Walker also continued to urge her agents to take a stand for themselves. At the end of the convention the agents sent a telegram to President Wilson calling for a stronger stand against lynching and the turmoil many African Americans still faced within their own country (http://madamwalkerfamilyarchives.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/madam-walkers-1917-convention-entrepreneurship-protest-politics/).
Madame Walker was a pioneer in many regards. She held a National Convention for her agents to motivate them to continue to sell her products and to dedicate themselves to local charities. She and her agents were conscious of the constant mayhem African Americans faced in the United States. Through this convention Madam Walker and her agents dedicated themselves to conduct business with a social conscious. Conducting business with a social conscious has become a new idea that is a staple in many modern day businesses. Madame Walker’s influence in the corporate world is still being felt decades after she first began selling hair products.
(1) Bundles, A’Lelia. On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker New York: Washington Square Press, 2002, 211.
(2)Literary Digest Oct 13, 1917 pg 76
(3)Negroes in the United States 1920-1930, Washington DC: GPO/Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census 1935, pg 526.
(4)Minutes of the First National Convention of the Madam C. J. Walker Hair Culturists’ Union of America , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, August 30-31, 1917 pg 1.
|Madison||Why Madam CJ WAlker named one of the famous Hoosier?|
|Bill Gallatin||Awesome job! Your parents must have done an amazing job raising you.|