Sarah Breedlove’s parents were former slaves who sharecropped in the Louisiana Delta. They had died by the time she was seven years old, so Sarah was shifted from one family to the next until she went to live with her sister Louvina, and Louvina’s husband, Willie Powell.
Willie began abusing her, so she ran away and married Moses McWilliams when she was just fourteen years old. They had one daughter, Lelia, before McWilliams’ death.
Sarah worked hard as a laundrywoman to provide for herself and Lelia, and her daughter’s education. She joined the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, where she sang in the choir.
She was greatly influenced by some of the Christian women who were members of that church. At this time she developed a scalp ailment that caused her to start losing her hair. Sarah began experimenting with various ingredients to create products specifically for the hair of African American women.
In St. Louis, she met and married Charles Joseph (“C.J.”) Walker and began calling herself and her company Madam C.J. Walker. Mr. Walker was a newspaperman with a talent for marketing. He started placing advertisements for her hair products in African American newspapers throughout the United States. She was hired by Annie Turnbo Malone, a successful African