Madam C. J. Walker was born on December 23, 1867 in Delta, Louisiana, the daughter of Owen and Minerva Breedlove. Her parents were former slaves working as sharecroppers and both died when Sarah was a child. As a result, Sarah was forced to move from one household to another. At age seven, she moved in with her sister Louvina and her husband. After suffering abuse from Louvina’s husband, Sarah ran away and married Moses McWilliams when she was 14 years old. In 1885, she gave birth to their daughter Lelia. Two years later, Moses was murdered by a White lynch mob.
After this tragedy, Sarah moved with her daughter to St. Louis, Missouri where she worked as a cook and housecleaner. Unfortunately, all of the stress and hardship had begun to take its toll on her and she found her hair falling out. She tried several products which claimed would help her condition but to no avail. At this point Sarah had a dream in which a “big Black man appeared to me and told me what to mix up for my hair. Some of the remedy was grown in Africa, but I sent for it, put it on my scalp, and in a few weeks my hair was coming in faster than it had ever fallen out.” After she shared her formula with some friends and found it successful for them as well, she realized that there were almost no hair products available for Blacks. She therefore decided to go into business, selling hair products to Black women.
In 1905 Sarah’s brother died and she moved to Denver, Colorado to live with her sister-in-law. When she arrived in Denver she had only $2.00 in her pocket yet she worked during the day as a cook in order to finance her part time business. At this point she met Charles Joseph “C.J.” Walker, a newspaperman with an innate ability for marketing. She married Walker on January 4, 1906 and the couple set up the “Madam CJ Walker Manufacturing Company” and began placing advertisements in Black newspapers throughout the United States. Although they