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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: The Philosophies of Madam Walker and J.C. Penney

Both Walker and Penney had strongly embedded principles they thought important in the conduct of their businesses and their daily lives. Each had well-defined philosophies about their goals in life. The following selections show both their determination and their dedication to meet those goals.

Madam Walker Startles a Convention

At the Thirteenth Annual Convention of the National Negro Business League in 1912, no women were included on the schedule of speakers. Madam Walker shocked the participants when she walked up and claimed the podium from moderator Booker T. Washington:

Surely you are not going to shut the door in my face. I feel that I am in a business that is a credit to the womanhood of our race. I am a woman who started in business seven years ago with only $1.50. . . .this year (up to the 19th day of this month . . .) I had taken in $18,000. (Prolonged applause). This makes a grand total of $63,049 made in my hair business in Indianapolis. (Applause.) I have been trying to get before you business people to tell you what I am doing. I am a woman that came from the cotton fields of the South; I was promoted from there to the wash-tub (laughter); then I was promoted to the cook kitchen, and from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations. . . . I am not ashamed of my past; I am not ashamed of my humble beginning. Don't think that because you have to go down in the wash-tub that you are any less a lady! (prolonged applause.)1

At the Fourteenth Annual Convention, Madam Walker was on the schedule, explaining to the audience how she had succeeded in the business world:

In the first place I found, by experience, that it pays to be honest and straightforward in all your dealings. (Applause.) In the second place, the girls and women of our race must not be afraid to take hold of business endeavor and, by patient industry, close economy, determined effort, and close application to business, wring success out of a number of business opportunities that lie at their doors. . . . I have made it possible for many colored women to abandon the wash-tub for more pleasant and profitable occupation. (Hearty applause.) Now I realize that in the so-called higher walks of life, many were prone to look down upon "hair dressers" as they called us; they didn't have a very high opinion of our calling, so I had to go down and dignify this work, so much so that many of the best women of our race are now engaged in this line of business, and many of them are now in my employ.2

J. C. Penney Speaks to Associates in the Kemmerer Store, ca. 1902

My Newly Acquired Associates:

My talk to you this evening is to be very brief and very much to the point. The name of our store is "The Golden Rule Stores." The policy upon which we expect to build is just what the name implies. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I think I need say no more, because in those few words, I have said much. If a business can be built on the principles of the Golden Rule, and I firmly believe it can, we shall go forward and some day we shall add to this one unit another store and another store, and some day we might have as many as ten stores. Right here I want to emphasize this: treat our customers all alike and treat them as we would like to be treated as a customer. We will sell for cash only, thereby avoiding losses through credit; we will have no delivery system, so we can pass this saving on to our customers. We will have no expensive fixtures for which we would have to go in debt; we will pay cash for all our merchandise so we can take advantage of all discounts and not have to pay interest. We will buy only good merchandise to sell to our customers. Because of all the advantages that will be ours, we will sell for less and never will we sacrifice quality for an unreasonably low price.

This is my brief story in a simple and plain language. Now as you go forward tomorrow serving our customers, and the opportunity presents itself, tell them what I have said and tell them in such a way that they will understand we have opened a new kind of store, planned and designed to render service unprecedented in the history of merchandising. Solicit their continued patronage on the Golden Rule Motto.

The Penney Idea

Following is a copy of "The Penney Idea," a declaration of ethics and purpose adopted by the J.C. Penney Company in 1913. The seven principles continue to guide the company today.

    1. To serve the public, as nearly as we can, to its complete satisfaction.
    2. To expect for the service we render a fair remuneration and not all the profit the traffic will bear.
    3. To do all in our power to pack the customer's dollar full of value, quality, and satisfaction.
    4. To continue to train ourselves and our associates so that the service we give will be more and more intelligently performed.
    5. To improve constantly the human factor in our business.
    6. To reward men and women in our organization through participation in what the business produces.
    7. To test our every policy, method, and act in this wise: "Does it square with what is right and just?"

Questions for Reading 3

1. How did Walker show her energy and belief in herself in her speech in 1912? in 1913?

2. How did Walker show her commitment to helping other African-American women achieve the success that would bring independence and self-respect?

3. How did Penney indicate that following the Golden Rule would help business and benefit customers? Do you agree? Why or why not?

4. What business principles does Penney suggest will benefit his customers?

5. Why do you think "The Penney Idea" continues to be part of the company's mission statement today?

Reading 3 was compiled from materials provided by A'Lelia P. Bundles and the J.C. Penney Archives, Dallas, TX.

¹Report of the Thirteenth Annual Convention of the National Negro Business League, Chicago, IL, August 21-23, 1912, William H. Davis, Official Stenographer, Washington, D.C., 154-55.
²Report of the Fourteenth Annual Convention of the National Negro Business League, Philadelphia, PA, August 20-22, 1913, William H. Davis, Official Stenographer, Washington, D.C., 210-212.


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