mad·am

ˈmadəm/

noun

  1. used to address or refer to a woman in a polite or respectful way. “Can I help you, madam?”
  2. used to address a woman at the start of a formal or business letter.
      • noun: Madam
      • “Dear Madam, …” used before a title to address or refer to a female holder of that position.

    ABR_4251

“Madam” was most commonly used in the early 1800s–though, ahem, I’m certain less frequent to address black women or other women of color. Since the 19th Century, usage has steadily declined; that was until more recent years. Around 2010 the term experienced an uptick in usage. Now, I know what you thinking: there were a few “madams” with a, let’s say, “different” interest who didn’t serve the title well. I am in full agreement there!

But conversely, there are examples of Madams who gave new meaning to the title and redefined womanhood, entrepreneurship, service and power at the same time. Case in point, one of the greatest Madams of all time: Madam CJ Walker was born Sarah Breedlove, but began using the title as part of a marital name change. The title took on a new meaning as Madam Walker ultimately breathed life into the title when she changed her destiny. In 1905, as a laundress, single mother, once widowed and once separated 37-year-old woman she committed to move beyond her then humble circumstances in Denver, Colorado. Madam forged ahead as beauty entrepreneur becoming the first self-made American woman millionaire. She did so around the same time, and in some cases before, her more widely-known peers Chaja (nee Helena)  Rubenstein, Florence Nightingale Graham (Elizabeth Arden) and decades before Josephine Esther Mentzer (Estee Lauder).

But Madam didn’t stop there! Her legacy undoubtedly impacted the beauty industry and African American beauty culture. Her work as a speaker, teacher, activist and philanthropist shifted perspectives and helped build and advance community for black people, especially black women. One hundred and ten years plus later, as a former beauty editor, as a current day entrepreneur, philanthropist and culture creator, I’m inspired still.

So how about this: from now on call me Modern Madam Tai Beauchamp. I know it may not roll easily off of your tongue but with a little practice, you’ll do just fine. (I promise!)  Never mind that I’m not English and French like the term’s origins, more meaningful to me is the sound, the feel, the legacy that Madam CJ created in adopting the title herself. “Madam” has a cadence; an air of regality and esteem that I think fits me–and you too (and shout out to Ebony from Brooklyn, who I know is so inspired by Madam CJ). I can because she did.

#ICanSheDid

Feature Image Credit: Image by: Antoine Braxton Dress: Fame & Partners Shoes: JustFab