Born on a cotton plantation in Delta, Louisiana on December 23, 1867, Sarah Breedlove was the daughter of recently freed slaves, and the first in her family to be born free. Her early life was filled with struggle: she was orphaned at seven, married at 14 and widowed at 20 with a two-year-old daughter. Despite the early tragedies she faced, Sarah was driven to build a better life for herself and her daughter.
Learn more about Madam Walker’s incredible story from her great-great-granddaughter and biographer A'Lelia Bundles as she discusses Madam Walker's rise from a bleak childhood to become a millionaire:
After her first husband died, Sarah moved to St. Louis where her three older brothers owned a barbershop. Their advice would be helpful when she began to suffer from hair loss, prompting her to develop a curative shampoo and ointment, which would change her life, as well as the lives of many other women. Soon after marrying her third husband, Charles Joseph Walker, she founded the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company in 1906, a business that not only pioneered beauty products, but ultimately made her one of America’s first self-made female millionaires.
A savvy business woman, activist and philanthropist, she shared her success, training other African American women to be her sales agents and, in the process, teaching them about earning money to educate their children, purchase real estate and contribute to charitable causes.
“Now my object in life is not simply to make money for myself or to spend it on myself in dressing or running around in any automobile, but I love to use a part of what I make to help others,” she said.
Applying her innate wisdom, perseverance and generous spirit to empower others, Madam C.J. Walker turned her life into one of American history’s most inspiring success stories.