America's First Female Self-Made Millionaire Gets Her Own Barbie Figure
Her great-great-granddaughter helped create the doll.
Toy company Mattel just announced that they will honor America's first female self-made millionaire by releasing a Barbie doll in her likeness. Madam C.J. Walker is the latest prominent woman to be commemorated in Barbie's Inspiring Women—intended, the company says, to honor "incredible heroines of their time." Read on to find out who Madam C.J. Walker was and why her accomplishments are so remarkable.
Madam C.J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) founded the Walker Manufacturing Company in 1910 to produce a line of hair care products and cosmetics designed for the special needs of Black women. She employed thousands of Black women as door-to-door salespeople for her products. She advocated for civil rights and women's equality, and financially supported orphanages and Black colleges.
In a 1912 speech, she described her trajectory from growing up as the daughter of former slaves to self-made entrepreneur: "I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there, I was promoted to the washtub. From there, I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there, I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations. I have built my own factory on my own ground." Walker's life was the subject of Self Made, a 2020 four-part Netflix series starring Oscar winner Octavia Spencer.
Mattel's Madam C.J. Walker doll depicts the entrepreneur in a floral print blouse and turquoise skirt, holding her original product, "Wonderful Hair Grower." The Washington Informer reported that the initial run of dolls sold out in less than five hours and the company is the process of restocking for outlets including Amazon, Walmart and Target.
Walker's great-great granddaughter A'Lelia Bundles worked with Mattel to create the doll. "It was a joy to work with Barbie on the design and creation of an Inspiring Women doll made in the likeness of my great-great grandmother, Madam C.J. Walker," said Bundles in a statement to CNN. "Their design team graciously welcomed me throughout all steps of the process—from hair development to packaging—to capture and celebrate the legacy of this trailblazing Black businesswoman. I can't wait for a new generation to be inspired by her story and to tell their own stories through a role model who came before them."
"As a pioneer in entrepreneurship, philanthropy and activism, creating the blueprint for the self-made American businesswoman and innovators of the twentieth century, Madam C.J. Walker is an embodiment of our Barbie Inspiring Women series," said Lisa McKnight, executive vice president and global head of Barbie and dolls at Mattel, in the statement. "We're honored to welcome her into this group of trailblazing women and introduce more kids to her journey of becoming one of the nation's first widely successful female founders."