Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education



Major Professor

Ralph Brockett

Committee Members

John Peters, Mary Ziegler, Diana Moyer


Madam C.J. Walker was born on December 23, 1867. She died May 25, 1919. For her first thirty-seven years, she worked as a field hand, a washerwoman, a domestic, and a cook. With no formal education, she created the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, an international business that manufactured ethnic beauty and hair care products. She also started a network of beauty colleges that taught African American women the science, art and the marketing of cosmetology. In less than fifteen years, her hard work and her inspired work force of over twenty-thousand African American women made her one of the most noted self-made millionaires, black or white, of her time. Madam Walker helped many and inspired thousands with her philanthropy and generosity. Perhaps most notably, she was a financier and leader in the civil rights movement and publicly worked for political social change.

This study is interpretive biography that examines Madam Walker’s accomplishments and contributions in the early twentieth century. Additionally, I present a model of adult education informed by Madam Walker’s life story. Based on Madam Walker’s ways of educating African American adult women, the Smith Model of Adult Education for Individual and Community Change is intended to expand the diversity of models available to adult educators for initiating and sustaining personal and community change. The model seeks to bring about social change through economic development. This social change begins with and is grounded within adult education practices. Adults desire and learn for personal improvement and change. Communities are impacted by small groups of adults who desire and need economic improvement. As individuals and small groups of adults begin to transform communities through economic improvement, they identify philanthropic needs within their communities. The ultimate goal is social change through the power gained from adult education and economic development.

Adult educators, philanthropic organizations, and economic developers are challenged by this interpretive biography and the Smith Model to identify persons of interest whose lives have significant themes and threads of the future promise and potential of adult education based on Madam Walker’s accomplishments, contributions and the Smith Model.

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