“I got my start by giving myself a start.” – Madam C. J. Walker, African-American Entrepreneur

One of the most successful women entrepreneurs of the early 20th century, Madam C. J. Walker amassed a fortune with her international hair-care and cosmetic industry. But the prosperous businesswoman is perhaps best remembered for her astounding philanthropy and social activism.

Not only did her hair-care business catapult her to personal wealth, but it also provided job opportunities for thousands of African-American women and men in the 1910s. A champion of women’s economic independence, she generously contributed to a variety of such causes and organizations. Though her resumé does not include any official awards of recognition during her lifetime, Walker was held in high esteem in the black community for her extraordinary philanthropy.

Walker’s gestures of altruism were astonishing for an African-American woman of that era. Her gift of $1,000 to the black Indianapolis YMCA in 1912 was the single greatest donation from a black woman at the time. She donated $5,000 to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People‘s Anti-Lynching Fund in 1919—the largest contribution the group had ever received before that year. Her contribution to the National Association of Colored Women‘s fund for the Frederick Douglass home in Washington, D.C. helped save the building from being sold. (It is currently a museum operated by the National Park Service and has been designated a National Historic Site.)

Today, Madam C. J. Walker’s spirit lives on across the country. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Fortune/Junior Achievement National Business Hall of Fame.