Abstract

This article examines the marketing strategies of A'Lelia Walker, daughter and coworker of Madam C. J. Walker who manufactured beauty and hair products and built up the extremely successful Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company in the early decades of the twentieth century. Whereas the mother was and still is widely admired as a hardworking "race woman," her daughter is frequently dismissed as a spoiled and frivolous heiress whose conspicuous consumption ultimately undermined the Walker brand. By placing A'Lelia's work for the company within the context of recent scholarship on black labor and consumption, this article suggests that we understand A'Lelia's consumer strategies as a savvy response to the new demands of mass marketing. Furthermore, an analysis of the changing and gendered ideas of consumption in early-twentieth century America reveals that A'Lelia's lifestyle challenged both black and white elites' gendered expectations of respectable consumption and helped to reshape the politics of black women's labor.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 90-114
Launched on MUSE
2009-06-11
Open Access
No
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