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Madam C.J. Walker and Helen Gould: Advocates of Women's Economic Independence

Madam C.J. Walker and Helen Gould

Advocates of Women's Economic Indepedence

At the turn of the 20th century American women were seeking greater employment and economic opportunity. Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919) and Helen Gould (1868 - 1938) recognized this need and used their wealth and influence to advocate for women's economic and social improvement.

Madam Walker, considered to be the first American woman to be a self-made millionaire, trained and mobilized women as sales agents for her black hair care business in the Jim Crow ear. Sales from her multi-million-dollar business propelled her into affluence and she built a mansion on Irvington-on-Hudson. Helen Gould, an heiress to a railroad fortune and famous for her philanthropic gifts, sponsored a long-running sewing school that trained local girls and women in this building.

Madam Walker and Helen Gould opened their grand homes here on the Hudson River as a place of instruction and monuments to progress. They provided women of all races and religions the opportunity to learn a skill from which they could not only earn a profitable income but also be self-reliant. Walker and Gould envisioned these economically successful women as community leaders and agents of change.


This project is funded by the African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation with support from the JPB Foundation.

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