Screen Shot 2021 02 09 at 11.28.55 AM America's First Self-Made Female Millionaire

America’s First Self-Made Female Millionaire

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In honor of Black History Month, I did some research about how different cultures approach generosity and came across an article about Madam C.J. Walker, America’s first self-made female millionaire. Intrigued, I began down a path to learn everything I could about this impressive lady. 

Born to former slaves, Walker was raised on a cotton plantation during Reconstruction. In her early twenties, she left home and migrated to St. Louis. There, she began on her entrepreneur journey, caving a substantial niche in the world of beauty products.

While Walker eventually became a millionaire, she didn’t wait for wealth and riches to live a generous life. She gave wholeheartedly from day one, using the time and resources at her disposal to relieve needs in her community.

Her commitment to generosity only grew with her wealth. As her business flourished, she supported her community, paid her employees well, and helped others follow her lead. Because of her life well lived, Walker is today considered a foremother of African American philanthropy and is respected as someone who challenged cultural norms, from a woman’s place in business to Jim Crow segregation.

To highlight Walker’s significance, Netflix released Self Made in 2020. Based on a biography written by Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, the short series is delightful and insightful.

For those who want to go beyond basic biographical information, Tyrone Freeman’s The Gospel of Giving is a great start. In the book, Freeman chronicles Walker’s generosity journey and lays out the ways she determined how to give of her time and resources. 

As Freeman explains, Walker utilized a five-fold approach when targeting her gifts. This strategy involved opportunity, education, activism, material resources, and legacy—a powerful and strategic framework for giving. Walker’s story is inspiring, and her generosity is a beautiful testimony that God is the giver of all good gifts. And when we hold those gifts with open hands, God uses them to do amazing things.

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About the Author

Mary Shaw

Mary serves as Women Doing Well’s Vice President, Experiences and Partnerships. She leads a team that creates transformational experiences and grows partnerships. Mary joined WDW in 2014 and has worked closely with city leaders to bring the Signature Event to their communities, using a proven model for creating a transformational one-day experience. Her passion for reaching women, growing their leadership and generosity has equipped her to serve volunteers as they engage and grow within Women Doing Well. Mary is a lifelong learner with experience in managing events, content and story development, volunteer care and systems implementation. She and her husband, Bryan, live in Chattanooga, Tennessee with their three children where they enjoy the beauty of God’s creation in the nature around them. Her two word purpose statement is ‘Providing Assurance.’

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