Episode 68: Madam C.J. Walker

Posted 14 May 2016 by
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When Madam C.J. Walker solved one of her own personal problems, she also created an opportunity to leave behind a life as a laundress for one as a successful businesswoman, philanthropist and civil rights activists and she was able to take thousands of women with her. Alaia Williams from the 18 to 49 Podcast graciously fills in as guest co-host with Beckett to talk about the life of this trailblazing role model who began to change her fate by changing the condition of her hair.

Madam C.J. Walker

Madam C.J. Walker

Rags to riches stories don’t happen without a lot of hard work, the ability to fill a need, hard work, perseverance and- yeah- hard work. Madam C.J. Walker’s life was all that and more. When she was born on December 23, 1867 in Delta Louisiana, her given name was Sarah Breedlove – and she was the first person in her family who was not born a slave. This fact makes it sound like the family’s life was improving, but they were extremely poor sharecroppers and laundresses; none of the children went to school and by the time Sarah was seven, both of her parents had died.

That was only the beginning of the rags portion of her life. We give all the details in the podcast but Sarah was married at 14, a mother at 17 and by 20 she was a widow. Job opportunities for uneducated black women were pretty slim: house servant or laundress. Sarah pursued the latter- it allowed her to be home with her daughter. The first reward for years of her hard work? She was able to send her daughter, Leila, to school, an option that Sarah never had, then she was able to send Leila to college an option Sarah never stopped thinking was a possibility.

How the formula for her hair care system was developed is wrapped in legend and marketing strategy-but a need to improve the condition of her own hair led Sarah to develop an effective product line. With a newly beautiful head of hair she was a walking advertisement; with a successful sales pitch that involved giving treatments for free while charging for the products she was in business. A marriage to Charles Joseph Walker gave her not only a husband, but a promotional consultant and a fancy new name- Madam C.J. Walker.

Vegetable Shampoo, the packaging showed her beautiful head of hair. The Children's Museum of Indiana

One of Sarah’s first products-Vegetable Shampoo, the packaging showed her beautiful head of hair. ( via The Children’s Museum of Indiana)

Sarah was still working very hard, but the results were much more lucrative. Personal door-to-door sales fulfilled by a mail order department (run by freshly minted college grad, Leila) soon led to expansion: more sales force feet on the ground in more cities, and a beauty school helped sell a lot of Sarah’s products and helped black women across the country gain new skills and careers as they learned the “Walker Method” of sales and hair care.

Because when you can, you do. Former illiterate laundress turned self-made millionaire entrepreneur in the driver's seat (literally AND figuratively.)

Because when you can, you do. Former illiterate laundress turned self-made millionaire entrepreneur in the driver’s seat (literally AND figuratively.)

Sarah herself kept learning, too. She learned to read and write and drive; she traveled and was able to up her philanthropy on a global scale including large contributions to both the YMCA and the NAACP. She was wealthy by anyone’s standards but was one of the wealthiest black women in America. Everything about her was grand– from the way she carried herself, to the assistance she gave others to her dream house, Villa Lewaro in New York.

Villa Lewaro

Villa Lewaro

Rich in both financial wealth and generous actions, Sarah’s life was going very well. Her daughter and granddaughter were living and working with her; she was active in a number of causes and her social circle was full of artists and activists. She had worked to earn success for herself while helping others achieve their own and had no plans to stop anything- but about a year after moving into Villa Lewaro complications from high blood pressure took her life on May 25,1919.

The new line of Madam C.J.Walker products is available at Sephora.

The new line of Madam C.J.Walker products (Sephora)




Intrigued to hear more from the edutaining Alaia Williams? On the 18-49 podcast she and Brandi Holmes bring you all the class and all the trash in movies, television and pop culture each week, but she does a lot more than that- check it all out at her website, alaiawilliam.com.18to49-artwork-300x300


The former Walker Manufacturing Plant in Indianapolis, Indiana is on the register of National Historical Landmarks. In it’s heyday the building housed not only a manufacturing facility but a beauty school, pharmacy and movie theater. Now it’s the Madam Walker Theater Center- a theater and educational center...you should go next time you’re there!

Madam Walker’s great, great granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles is the source for all things Madam Walker. Her personal website as well as several others that she is involved with are where you can find all the pictures we won’t use because, well, we are law abiding chicks. Here is the official Madam C.J. Walker website for even more intel and photos. Read here about Walker’s funeral and about how Woodlawn Cemetery in NY was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Everything you need to know about hot combs (well, five of them anyway) from Madamnoire.com.

Mark your calendars and plan a trip to Washington, DC! On September 24, 2016 the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture will open! Here is a sneak peek from the Washington Post.national museum


If you aren’t in Louisiana you can click around on this site to learn more about the African-American Heritage Trail...but if you ARE in Louisiana you should get busy, there is A LOT to see!

Chris Rock made a documentary covering everything about black women’s hair after his daughter asked, “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?” Good Hair 

Beckett has posted the Pinterest Board for Madam C.J. Walker, she’s got a lot of great things pinned already and will add more as she stumbles across them (like she does for all the episode boards. Go check it out and give us a follow!

We know you were wondering more about Precipitated Sulphur from Chest of Books dot Com, who wouldn’t want to know more? Science.

Finally! You can braid hair in Nebraska without going to jail!



On Her Own Ground, Bundles

On Her Own Ground, Bundles


Good for the younger set, Madam C.J. Walker: Entrepreneur by A’Leia Bundles

Gates West

The African-American Century bu Henry Louis Gates, Jr and Cornell West

By Mary Kay Carson

By Mary Kay Carson


Special thanks to our show sponsors, MeUndies and Audible Audiobooks

 Thank you for supporting the fine people who support us!

Guaranteed Content Poll

Posted 9 May 2016 by
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Putting together our episode calendar is hard!

Okay, maybe it’s only a little challenging but it’s also fun so once in awhile we share the fun and offer that choice up to you. The Guaranteed Content Poll has put some really amazing women on the schedule including Jane Austen, the Romanovs, and Catherine the Great. Now it’s time to pick another one. We dove into the master list and pulled out five women from varied eras and areas- it’s time for you to vote!


Voting Ends May 28, 2016

Episode 67: Q&A Number Two

Posted 2 May 2016 by
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***********We had a tech glitch on our website player, it’s corrected now but if you tried to play it before you may have to clear your cache to get the Q&A 2 episode on this player*****

What would you serve Dorothy Parker for dinner? When are you covering the Schuyler sisters? What would you tell your high school history teacher? We get a lot of questions and love them all (except maybe the mean ones). Some are asked quite often or were so good that we thought, “hmmm, maybe a lot more people would like to know this but were too busy to ask it, perhaps we should have a colloquy,” (because we’re fancy like that.)

And then Beckett talked Susan out of actually using the word, “colloquy.”

See? Fancy.

See? Fancy.


Episode 66: Zelda Fitzgerald

Posted 22 April 2016 by
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Southern-born Flapper? Trophy wife of famous writer? Jazz Age fashion icon? Wild and selfish woman-child who went off the deep end?  Zelda Fitzgerald has been remembered in all of these ways – but none are entirely correct, nor do they describe this unique woman who lived a very complex life in an ever-changing world.

Zelda_Fitzgerald_portrait framed

Zelda was a southern born flapper. No argument there. Zelda Sayre began her life on July 24, 1900 in Montgomery, Alabama. She grew up in a socially prominent (although financially upper middle class at best) family as the loved-by-everyone, charming, energetic, brave and highjinky youngest child. She was a skilled ballet dancer, a fearless flirt and an incomparable Orange Blossom sipping beauty. Young gentlemen filled her dance card, frat boys swore their devotion to her and aviators flew over her house just to be noticed by her.

She became a Jazz Age icon and first wave flapper when she and her new husband–freshly published, (gasp!) Yankee writer, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald– arrived in New York City to a life of instant literary fame in 1920. She defined the flapper: bold, brave, reckless and fun loving young women who threw off stuffy formality along with their corsets. Zelda and Scott lived a very public life of opulence as the poster couple for the wild, monied and creative set in both the US and Europe. Wherever they went partying followed; whatever they did somehow was used as material for Scott’s novels, articles and short stories. His second book, The Beautiful and the Damned, was so filled with their likenesses the publisher went ahead and marketed it with a couple that looked an awful lot like them on the cover.Beautifuldamed

The whole Youth on a Wild Bender life sounds kind of dreamy…for a short time, but the pair made “never settling down” a lifestyle. Even the birth of their only child, Frances Scott Fitzgerald (Scottie) didn’t slow them down. New York, Paris, the Riviera, Hollywood…they kept moving, Scott kept writing (and drinking), Zelda kept helping to critique (and write) his work and giving him fodder for the novels, short stories and articles that supported them. But the more Zelda lost herself into their marriage–into Scott’s literature–the more troubled she became.

Circa 1921, Zelda was pregnant with Scottie. (wikicommons)

Circa 1921, Zelda was pregnant with Scottie. (wikicommons)

We give a disclaimer that we TRIED to achieve middle-ground between Team Scott (she was his muse but also his crazy wife who pulled him down) and Team Zelda (she was an emotionally abused wife whose mental condition had more to do with an alcoholic husband, exhaustion and unnecessary and harmful medical treatment than simply an existing mental illness). We probably failed to completely achieve middle-ground.

We’re okay with that.

Zelda tried to find and throw herself into creative outlets for herself ONLY–her OWN writing, ballet dancing, painting all of which she was very good at. These activities worked to help her express herself and to keep it together…until they didn’t. His behavior towards her– multiple affairs (she wasn’t exactly innocent here, either), alcohol induced dramas, panic from massive debts mounting, dismissing her art, her writing, her value, and blaming her for any family failures– only pushed her spiral downward.

The wife, the girl friend. hmmm...

The wife, the Hollywood girl friend. hmmm…

When Zelda was hospitalized in 1930 she was immediately diagnosed as schizophrenic (most likely incorrectly diagnosed) and moved (was forced?) into the next phase of her life: 18 years spent in and out of mental institutions. As part of her therapy she painted and wrote an autobiographical novel, Save Me the Waltz, that allowed her to tell her story through her lens, not Scott’s. She sent it to Scott’s publisher behind his back, but in the end he still managed to put his imprint on the book.



We tell a lot more of Zelda’s story in the podcast, give anecdotes and opinions to fill in the black and white impression that many have of her very colorful life.

Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in 1940. Eight years later, on March 10, 1948 Zelda was locked into her room for the night at Highland hospital in Ashville, North Carolina, the psychiatric facility where she had been living, when a fire broke out and she died. She was 48 years old. She is buried with Scott and Scottie (who lived a long and pretty normal life) in Maryland.  The words on their tombstone is the final sentence from Scott’s most famous book, The Great Gatsby:

“So we beat on; boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

flikr cc Mr.TinDC

Even in death, Scott got the last word. Maybe spending an hour listening to her story will let Zelda’s voice be heard.



We dug up a hefty collection of links and materials that would make Zelda blush with pride. Probably.

We’ll start off by bucking convention (Zelda would have it no other way) and get you in the mood with the end song that we didn’t play. Tiny Victories, Scott and Zelda


You want to see her art (you do, trust us) and instead of breaking copyright laws we’ll simply send you to ART.COM. (Not sponsored, we always tell you if something is.) 

Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery Alabama, housed in the last house the couple rented 1931-’32. Going would be your best bet, but clicking through the collections online is a good second place.

Fitzgerald Museum

Fitzgerald Museum

Scott and Zelda website, by their family– it’s pretty.

You really, really  REALLY ought to go check out our Pinterest board for Zelda.



Edited by Matthew Bruccoli

Edited by Matthew Bruccoli

2011 Nancy Milford

2011 Nancy Milford

2012 Sally Cline

2012 Sally Cline

Theresa Anne Fowler

Fiction: Theresa Anne Fowler


We didn’t talk much about it but did touch on the 2011 Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris. Here is a scene, you tell us if you think Alison Pill as Zelda is what you imagined her to be.

Zelda Fitzgerald: The Musical, You can watch the whole thing on this site. Theater! Without leaving the house! In your jammies or MeUndies loungewear! (That is totally sponsored)

Not a movie, but the Amazon Prime original,  Z: The Beginning of Everything has one episode with Christina Ricci as Zelda available to stream for the low, low price of $0.00.

We couldn’t help (when we lined-up with Team Zelda) but think back to Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman, the 1944 movie about a man who makes his wife believe that she is crazy.


Do you find yourself on Team Zelda? We have a shirt for that. Check out our shop for all our Chick Gear.

History Chicks Baby/Pet/Car Name Guide entry: Zelda. Read all about the name at Appellation Mountain.

You guys all know to Snopes something before you share it, right? (It’s okay, we’ve all done it once or twice). Here is the story behind the List of Reasons for Admission to an Insane Asylum, early 1900s. 

If you are drawn to Zelda because of an interest in psychotherapy (as in learning about it, not necessarily undergoing it) (not that there is anything wrong with that) here is the handy dandy guide that Beckett mentioned comparing Jung and Freud. 

They make it look so easy…and no Dippity Do! (Which, apparently, is still a thing! Dippity-Do.com)


And finally, super special thanks to this week’s sponsors, MeUndies and Green Chef!


Episode 65: Miss Potter Moviecast

Posted 2 April 2016 by
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In the middle of recording the media section of the Beatrix Potter episode we started to discuss the 2006 movie, Miss Potter starring Renee Zellweger as Beatrix when we realized that we both had a lot to say about it.

“Let’s do a moviecast!”

So we did.film-158157_1280 poster


Episode 64: Beatrix Potter

Posted 26 March 2016 by
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Once upon a time there were four little rabbits with very familiar names who knew a quiet girl named Beatrix Potter. Beatrix loved animals, nature and art…and one day she would make them the most famous rabbits in the world.

Beatrix, 1913 (wikicommons)

Beatrix, 1913 (wikicommons)

Helen Beatrix Potter was born July 26, 1866 to Rupert and Helen Potter. Her little brother, Bertram, was born six years later. Rupert was professionally a lawyer, but recreationally an art collector and amateur photographer. Helen was involved in some philanthropic organizations and ran a very tight ship (trying to be nice here).

Beatrix and Helen. She wasn't a mean, horrible, abusive mother she was just hired the right staff so she could be protective by proxy.

Beatrix and Helen. She wasn’t a mean, horrible, abusive mother she simply hired the right staff so she could be protective by proxy.


Episode 63: Catherine the Great Part Two

Posted 4 March 2016 by
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When we last left the Grand Duchess Catherine, she was feeling alone, unloved and unnecessary. She had just given birth and the child, Paul, heir to the Russian Empire, was ripped from her arms to be raised by Empress Elizabeth. Not cool, Elizabeth, not cool at all.

Still a Grand Duchess (wikimedia commons, public domain)

Still a Grand Duchess (wikimedia commons, public domain)

Catherine’s postpartum solitude did afford her time to read…and think…and plan. Elizabeth wasn’t getting any younger and it wasn’t that hard to imagine Peter as a very inept Czar. All of Catherine’s reading about historic rulers and enlightened thinkers was helping form ideas on how best to rule Russia. Once she stepped back out into society she transitioned from, “Charming But Decorative” to “Charming and Fierce.” She began to not only call out people who wronged her, but –in Survivor terms– she played a really strong social game. She spotted her allies and brought them into her circle, and the rest? She kept track of their moves, distanced herself when necessary, played them when required and kept them guessing. Smile. Charm. Don’t let them see you scheme.

Good plan. (more…)

Episode 62: A Conversation with Carol Wallace

Posted 5 February 2016 by
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Life. It’s funny, you know? Like the time both of us were sick for so long that we couldn’t record Catherine the Great Part 2 for this week’s show but, instead, have this conversation between Beckett and Carol Wallace?

Funny in a “well, that’s a little different” way.

In 2010 one of us- Beckett- wanted to hear a podcast like her favorite book of all time, To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol Wallace, but couldn’t find one. So we made one.

In 2014 we had drinks with Carol Wallace.

In 2015 this conversation was recorded and lived in a computer until now.

The book that inspired this podcast AND Downton Abbey!

The book that inspired this podcast AND Downton Abbey!


Episode 61: Catherine the Great, Part One

Posted 22 January 2016 by
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Every once and again we hold a Guaranteed Content poll so that you, the listeners, can pick a subject for us. This time you chose well, nay, you chose great and this is that episode! Actually, it’s TWO episodes devoted to the life, loves, power and accomplishments of Catherine the Great.



Catherine the Great didn’t start out life very great and she didn’t start out as a Catherine either. *deep breath* Sophia Auguste Frederike von Anhalt- Zerbst was born on April 21, 1792 (or May 2nd if you’re using a a Gregorian calendar) in Stettin, Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland). She was the first child of Christian August who was a frugal, minor prince of a minor principality, and Joanna Elizabeth of Holstein- Gottorp, an entitled princess who felt she had been married off poorly.

Papa Christian and Mama Joanna

Papa Christian and Mama Joanna


Episode 60: Four Inventors

Posted 12 December 2015 by
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Lillian Gilbreth inspired us. After talking about her life and accomplishments, we thought it was high time to introduce you to four more problem-solving women whose inventions we use every day: Josephine Cochrane, Melitta Bentz, Mary Phelps Jacobs and Hedy Lamarr.


Chapter One: The Dishwasher

Josephine Cochrane was tired of her china being chipped during hand washing…so she invented the modern dishwasher and was granted a patent for it in 1886! Cochrane_J