In Irvington, New York, there stands Madam C. J. Walker’s “Villa Lewaro,” a restored historic residence that embodies the optimism and perseverance of the American entrepreneurial spirit.
Born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 in Delta Louisiana, where her parents and elder siblings were enslaved, Madam Walker would become a cosmetics and business pioneer. Developing beauty and hair products for black women, Madam Walker trained nearly 23,000 sales agents and workers, serving customers in the United States, Central America, and the Caribbean. Recognized by the Guinness Book of Records for being America’s first, self-made female millionaire, Madam Walker’s achievements in the face of racial challenges of 20th century America are impressive and without comparison. The preservation of Villa Lewaro reminds us about her remarkable life once lived.
"I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the kitchen cook. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations." – Madam CJ Walker
At the National Trust, we’re working to explore protection strategies, to understand the building’s potential, and to develop a documentary on Walker’s legacy and Villa Lewaro.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 for its architectural significance, Villa Lewaro’s intact interiors are in good condition and the property retains a high degree of integrity. Ambassador Harold E. Doley, Jr. and Mrs. Doley has owned and lived at Villa Lewaro since 1993. Villa Lewaro was the intellectual gathering place for notable leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, such as James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Langston Hughes. Villa Lewaro is located one-half mile from Lyndhurst and three miles from Kykuit.
- Determine financially sustainable uses for the home, beyond the house museum model.
- Explore appropriate legal protection strategies to protect the property and the historic interiors.
- Raise national awareness of Walker’s legacy and support for Villa Lewaro’s future preservation.
Ways To Help
Donate to our campaign to save Villa Lewaro for the benefit of future generations.
Share your story about the importance of Madam Walker’s legacy and Villa Lewaro’s preservation.
Help us identify a corporate sponsor to fund a $50K documentary film on Villa Lewaro.
Pledge your support for protecting Madam C.J. Walker’s legacy and preserving her estate, Villa Lewaro.
Written by Jessica Pumphrey
As we near the end of February, and Black History month, we thought it fitting to share this inspiring piece by A’Lelia Bundles on Madam Walker’s keys to success.
For almost a year, the National Trust has been diligently working to protect and re-imagine new uses for Madam Walker’s estate, Villa Lewaro. Within that work we have come across people from all walks of life, with varied backgrounds and expertise who have been inspired by Madam Walker’s story. To think an African-American woman could beat the tremendous odds against her (segregation, women’s suffrage, etc.) and build a legacy that is still recognized today is unheard of. The more I learn from her the more I believe she had the foresight to know her name would be celebrated long after her time.
More than ever, African-American woman are taking leadership roles in business, philanthropy and other industries. With such progress happening today, it’s hard not to wonder what type of work ethic Madam Walker had when building her own empire. Read about what she considered to be her keys to success and share your own by using the #MadamCJWalker hashtag! We want to hear from you!
Biography.com - Madam C.J. Walker’s Secret’s to Success
Oh, and March is Women’s History Month. Check back to see how we draw connections between Madam Walker and other dynamic women of her time period.
Today is Madam CJ Walker's Birthday! In honor of her extraordinary life, we wanted to let you know of an opportunity to tour her estate, Villa Learo. Sign the pledge today and show your support for the continued protection of Villa Lewaro, and we'll be sure to notify you first about chances to go behind-the-scenes at Villa Lewaro. You can also learn about the potential new uses for the estate, Villa Lewaro by clicking here.
Keep an eye out on your inbox for more details from us!
Written by Brent Leggs, Project Manager for Villa Lewaro National Treasure
In today’s blog post, Kathy Dixon, president of the National Organization of Minority Architects, says that the legacy of Villa Lewaro is to "continue the intent of its owner to inspire African-Americans and others to strive for greater success." I agree. With a mission-driven use, Villa Lewaro could have a strong social justice impact, and empower future generations to come.
Written by Brent Leggs, Project Manager for Villa Lewaro National Treasure
Today’s blog features A’Lelia Bundles, respected author and Madam Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, on why preservation matters at Villa Lewaro. She states, “Without this evidence, our history is easily misinterpreted and dismissed. Without something to touch and see, our children and grandchildren have no way to verify the accomplishments of the ancestors.” Preservation matters! Villa Lewaro is a lasting example of our shared cultural identity, memory, and “continuity.”
Kelly Thoreck on November 08, 2014
I used to walk by this property on my way to college every day. I always loved to imagine what it would be like to live inside. After learning about Madame C.J. Walker in a history class, I gained a new found respect for old fasioned hard work, and a deep admiration for a woman who walked over her obstacles. That this piece of history even exists in class- and race- driven Westchester County is a miracle that should be preserved as an inspiration for young women.
Judy Kahn on October 25, 2014
We passed this mansion many times when we lived in Sleepy Hollow, and always admired it. What a gorgeous place! We had a tour once a long time ago. Happy to see it will not be torn down!
Karl Leone on October 24, 2014
Greetings, I am a born and raised in Irvington, NY. My home was on Meadowbooke Road right next to Villa Lewaro. I was so happy to hear that the National Trust is taking action into sustaining Madame CJ Walker's legacy. Keeping her property intact means we can keep Madame Walker's legacy in tact. We as a community cannot let the property of such an honorable and generous woman go to waste. Madame CJ Walker built this estate as meeting grounds for people of all people to come together and make some kind of change. As an actor, poet, playwright and cultural activist, I am pledging to sustain the legacy of Madame CJ Walker and the property of Villa Lewaro. This house is the people's White House. I know that because I grew up on these lands, a young white boy who never forgot that a black woman and a black man built that house from the ground up. I think far to many people in this white-washed town and community have fogotten especially as new money rolls in. But I do believe there is hope in sustaining this legacy thru the arts, education, and social advocacy. I myself was inspired to research more on Village Lewaro when I moved home to Irvington after graduating from The New School for Social Research with a degree in theater and poetry. I began to sit and write at the stone wall on the aqueduct looking up at the magnificence of the home. And so I began to imagine what conflict this land had seen, what Madame had seen in her lifetime and what this home meant to her- as a kind of Heaven, a retreat from city life and her past all at once. And so I would come back to Villa Lewaro as a Irvington resident, as a writer, as a person with endless questions about this house which I grew up looking at. The many mythologies and histories of Irvington and the Hudson Valley began to overwhelm me as I made the change from living in the city to a small village again. Hermits Grave, Washington Irving, Octagon House, Sleepy Hollow, Lyndhurst, Rockefeller Estate, Madame CJ Walker are just some of the old Hudson River lore and legends that still haunt me as as a writer. The history here is boundles and when it comes down to it, what is most important is that these stories and legends never go unheard. The younger generations need to know this information and there are many ways to do that thru the arts. I am very close with the Irvington Town Hall Theater, there should be events happening alongside their events. Nowadays, Irvington is becoming an attraction for families and younger people such as myself who cant afford the city. We must take action now and use the facilities while we can to raise attention. Madame wanted to support young artists, I as a playwright felt her call and so decided to situate my play in the Gold Room and deals with notions of territory, faith, and democracy. I will be having the first read thru of this play at La MaMa theater in NYC, a theater to which I am a resident actor, director and playwright. I also work for an arts organization, Create Collect, which supports new and emerging artists develop their work in galleries and site specific locatons. We are based in NYC, Miami and soon to be LA. Please reach out to me at email@example.com or (914)433-4492. I currently reside in Irvington. Thank you!