Sarah Breedlove Walker

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Sarah Breedlove Walker​​​​; also known as Madame C. J. Walker

(Developed formula for straightening hair of African-American women; one of the first black millionaires in the USA)​​​

Sarah Breedlove Walker.jpg

Born December 23, 1867​​​​
Delta, Madison Parish, Louisiana

Resided in Vicksburg, Mississippi,
St. Louis, Missouri
Denver, Colorado
Indianapolis, Indiana

Died May 25, 1919 (aged 51)​
Westchester County
New York​​

Resting place:
Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York City

Spouse (1) Moses McWilliams (married 1881-1887, his death)​

(2) John Davis (married 1894-1903, divorced)
(3) Charles Joseph Walker (married 1906-1913, divorced)​​
One daughter:
A'Leila McWilliams Walker
​​ Owen and Minerva Breedlove


Sarah Breedlove Walker, known as Madame C. J. Walker (December 23, 1867 – May 25, 1919), was the inventor of the formula and method of straightening the hair of her fellow African-American women. She became one of the first female and the first black millionaires through the sale of her popular products.


Walker was born in Delta in Madison Parish in northeastern Louisiana, the daughter of an impoverished couple, Owen and Minerva Breedlove. Orphaned at the age of six, she was reared by an older sister. She was married at the age of fourteen to a man from Vicksburg, Mississippi, named Moses McWilliams, had a daughter named A'Leila, and was widowed at the age of twenty. She moved from Vicksburg to St. Louis, Missouri, where she worked as a washerwoman and attended night school.[1] [2]


In 1905, Walker developed her hair straightening formula, along with a cream for improving complexion. She spent the next year perfecting her line of products in Denver, Colorado. She wed the newspaper advertising executive Charles Joseph Walker, her third husband. The couple divorced in 1913; Charles outlived her by seven years. She hired agents to sell her goods door-to-door but also relied on mail-order sales, and she travelled across the South and the East to establish her cosmetics enterprise. In 1908, she opened a second office managed by her daughter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She then decided to combine the Denver and Pittsburgh offices into one headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she also built a manufacturing plant for her products, 1910. At the height of her career she employed more than three thousand, mostly African Americans, with two thousand employess selling her products. She did an annual business of more than $50,000[1] (1.3 million in 2020 dollars).[3]

She was a large donor to the then newly-established civil rights advocacy group, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She helped in the establishment of houses for the aged in St. Louis and Indianapolis. She organized a black YMCA in Indianapolis. She funded scholarships for women at the historically black Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, and the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia in Guilford County, North Carolina. Her bequests established industrial and mission schools in West Africa. As her health deteriorated, Walker ignored her physician's warnings that her heavy schedule was a threat to her health. Nevertheless, Walker herself continued to oversee the marketing and distribution of her products until she died in 1919 from chronic nephritis at her lavish country estate, “Villa Lewaro,” in Irvington-on-Hudson in suburban Westchester County, New York, which had been a national gathering place for African Americans.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Walker, Sarah Breedlove. A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography: Louisiana Historical Association. Retrieved on April 23, 2020.
  2. A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography uses these sources for the article on Mrs. Walker: Rayford Logan and Michael Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (1982) and Dictionary of American Biography, vol. 19.
  3. Inflation Calculator. Retrieved on April 23, 2020.

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