Madam C. J. Walker
December 23, 1867 - May 25, 1919

Sarah Breedlove (who would later be known as Madam C. J. Walker), was born in Delta, Louisiana, the youngest daughter of a slave family. Her sister, Louvenia was three years older than she was. Sarah's parents died of yellow fever when she was 7 years old. When Sarah was 11 she and her sister moved to Vicksburg and found work as maids.

Sarah was 14 when she married Moses McWilliams. Four years later Sarah and Moses had a daughter named Lelia. Sadly, Moses died when Lelia was only two years old. He was killed by a lynch mob. Sarah and Lelia moved to St. Louis, Missouri where Sarah managed to support her daughter by working as a washerwoman. She married John Davis in 1894, but the marriage failed when John began to drink heavily. Even though Sarah never had an opportunity to attend school and could read very little, she worked hard and long hours so her daughter would be able to attend college. Sarah was very proud when Lelia graduated from Knoxville College.

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As Sarah approached the age of 40 she noticed that her hair was breaking and falling out. Sarah developed a hair formula that caused her hair to grow again quickly. Other African Americans noticed how nice her hair looked and asked if she would share her formula with them. That's when Sarah began to create her hair treatments at home. She sold them to friends and also sold her hair products by going door to door.

Sarah relocated to Denver, Colorado in 1905 where she added new products to her line of goods. She worked to build her business and married her third husband Charles Joseph Walker. She used Joseph's initials and last name as her professional name and became known as Madam C.J. Walker. Her business grew with the help of her daughter and husband. She began to sell her products through the mail in addition to training salesmen who sold her products door to door. Eventually Madam Walker's business was earning $10 a day (a lot of money for that time in history). Sarah wanted to expand her business and make it even more successful; she divorced her husband when he did not agree with her business plan.

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Sarah and Lelia moved to Pittsburgh and opened a college to teach hairdressing. They operated their college for two years before moving to Indianapolis, where they opened a factory to produce their hair products and cosmetics. They also hired African American professionals who helped direct their expanding business operation. In addition, Sarah hired people who taught her how to read and understand math.

Sarah traveled around the country showing her products, recruiting salespeople, and encouraging African American people to start new businesses to use and sell her products. Madame Walker was very good at promoting her products and services. Her business grew and prospered.

Lelia and Sarah purchased property in New York City in 1913 and moved into a very lovely estate in 1916. The Walkers generously supported religious, educational, charitable, and civil rights organizations. They worked to improve conditions for African Americans. Madam Walker was a very wealthy woman -- the first African American Millionaire -- when she died in 1919.

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