Madam C. J. (Breedlove) Walker
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Sarah (Breedlove) Walker (1867 - 1919)

Sarah (Madam C. J.) Walker formerly Breedlove aka McWilliams, Davis
Born in Delta, Madison, Louisiana, United Statesmap
Wife of — married about 1882 (to about 1887) [location unknown]
Wife of — married 11 Aug 1894 (to about 1903) in St. Louis, Missouri, United Statesmap
Wife of — married Jan 1906 (to 1910) [location unknown]
Descendants descendants
Died at age 51 in Irvington, Westchester, New York, United Statesmap
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Profile last modified | Created 20 Oct 2009
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Notables Project
Madam C. J. (Breedlove) Walker is Notable.

Madam C. J. Walker rose from poverty to become a businesswoman and entrepreneur, best known for her tonic that helped hair growth. Her self-care products empire made her one of the first self-made female millionaires, and gave her the means to become an activist and philanthropist who helped thousands.[1]

She was born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana on December 23rd, 1867, the youngest of six children of former slaves-turned-share-croppers Owen Breedlove and Minerva Anderson. She was their first child born free, but she was born on cotton plantation land belonging to her parents' former enslavers, and lived a childhood gripped by poverty and despair. By the time she was seven she'd lost both parents, forcing their youngest children to find new homes and livelihoods. She was taken in by her older married sister, Louvenia Powell, in nearby Vicksburg; she picked cotton and cleaned houses. The younger brothers were taken in by the oldest, Owen Breedlove, Jr., and they moved to St. Louis and learned the barber trade with him.[2]

In 1882, at 14 years old, she married Moses McWilliams. They had one child, Lelia, in 1885; Sarah was widowed in 1887 at the age of 20. Sarah and Lelia went to her brothers in St. Louis, and she found work as a laundress.[2]

Sarah married John Davis in St. Louis, Missouri on August 11th, 1894.[3][4] They had no children, and the relationship was over by 1903.[1] Years of searching for help with a scalp condition led her to try many remedies, including one made by entrepreneur and role-model Annie Malone, who gave her a job in St. Louis as a sales representative in 1904.[1] [5]

In January 1906 she married St. Louis newspaperman Charles Joseph Walker while working in Denver, and Mrs. Charles Joseph Walker soon began empire-building as the self-styled "Madam C. J. Walker."[1]

She started her company in Denver with a product for hair growth she marketed as revealed to her in a dream. With the help of her husband and daughter (now Lelia Walker), for a year and a half she sold her products door-to-door, at demonstrations, and finally by mail-order. She did so well she opened a training school in Pittsburgh, and then moved her operations from Denver to a new industrial complex, the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, in Indianapolis, which included a factory and a second training school, to produce and sell hair care products and cosmetics.[2][6] Her daughter convinced her to expand her operations to up-and-coming Harlem in 1913, and she expanded internationally as well.[5][7][8] She built an estate on the Hudson River in Irvington, New York, and her daughter built a Harlem townhouse and salon that became gathering places for community leaders.[1]

By 1920, she had trained and employed thousands of women in several states.[9] Her Madam C. J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America convention in Philadelphia in 1917 must have been one of the first national meetings of businesswomen in the country. Walker used the gathering not only to reward her agents for their business success, but to encourage their political activism as well.

This is the greatest country under the sun,” she told them. “But we must not let our love of country, our patriotic loyalty cause us to abate one whit in our protest against wrong and injustice. We should protest until the American sense of justice is so aroused that such affairs as the East St. Louis riot be forever impossible.”[2]

Sarah Walker died at her home at the age of 51 on Sunday, May 25th, 1919,[10][11] from complications of hypertension. She is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx County, New York.[12]

When she died, she was considered the wealthiest African-American woman in America, and has been called the first self-made millionaire woman in the United States.[13]

Her only child, Lelia-- now Mrs. Lelia Robinson -- succeeded her as president of the C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company.[11]

In 1993, she was posthumously inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame [14]. In January 1998, the US Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor. [15]

Sarah Walker's strength and lasting legacy has inspired many African-American women to enter the business world.

Don't sit down and wait for the opportunities to come; you have to get up and make them.
~Madam C.J. Walker


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Madam C. J. Walker," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia (accessed April 12, 2022).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 A'lelia Bundles, "Madam C.J. Walker: A Brief Biographical Essay," Madame C.J. Walker Official Website, (accessed 11 Apr 2021).
  3. Missouri, St. Louis, Marriage Licenses, Volume 47 #54496-58455, page 442, #57142, John Davis and Sallie McWilliams, 11 Aug 1894; "Missouri, County Marriage, Naturalization, and Court Records, 1800-1991," database with images, FamilySearch (accessed 20 Nov 2022).
  4. "United States Census, 1900," ED 215, Precinct 4, Ward 14, St. Louis city, St. Louis County, Missouri, USA; sheet 7A, family 109, Sarah Davis in John Davis household; NARA microfilm T623
  5. 5.0 5.1 A'lelia Bundles, "The Facts about Madam C. J. Walker and Annie Malone" A'lelia Bundles (accessed 20 Nov 2022).
  6. "United States Census, 1910," ED 98, Indianapolis Ward 5, Marion County, Indiana, USA; sheet 3B, family 65, Sarah Walker in Chas J Walker household; NARA microfilm T624, roll 367.
  7. "Wealthy Woman Buys Property," The New York Age, 12 Nov 1914, page 2, column 2; image copy, (accessed 20 Nov 2022).
  8. "United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925," database with images, FamilySearch (16 March 2018), Sarah Walker, 1913; citing Passport Application, Indiana, United States, source certificate #17661, Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 - March 31, 1925, 1020, NARA microfilm publications M1490 and M1372 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
  9. "Madame C.J. Walker, Indiana Historical Society website.
  10. : "New York, State Death Index, 1880-1956", database, FamilySearch (2 March 2022), Sarah Walker, 1919.
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Many Bequests Made By Madame Walker Who Is Dead After A Lingering Illness," The New York Age, 31 May 1919, page 1 & 5; image copy, (page 1, page 5(accessed 20 Nov 2022).
  12. Find a Grave, database and images (accessed 24 October 2020), memorial page for Madam C.J. Walker (23 Dec 1867–25 May 1919), Find A Grave: Memorial #18239, citing Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, Bronx County, New York, USA; Maintained by Find A Grave.
  13. Guiness Book of World Records
  14. National Women's Hall of Fame
  15. 32¢ Madam C.J. Walker stamp, Smithsonian National Postal Museum

See also:

  • Eva M. Doyle, "Madam C.J. Walker -- America's first black woman self-made millionaire," Buffalo News, Sun, Feb 10, 2019, p. H2.

Memories: 2
Enter a personal reminiscence or story.
"I got myself a start by giving myself a start." Madam C.J. Walker
posted 2 Nov 2009 by Madam C. J. (Breedlove) Walker

Madam C.J. Walker's story has always deserved an expansive loom on which to weave the threads of her legendary life with the broad themes and major events of American history. Quoted from On Her Own Ground [novel]

posted 30 Oct 2009 by Madam C. J. (Breedlove) Walker
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posted by Abby (Brown) Glann

This week's featured connections are Baseball Legends: Madam C. J. is 39 degrees from Willie Mays, 29 degrees from Ernie Banks, 23 degrees from Ty Cobb, 25 degrees from Bob Feller, 27 degrees from Lou Gehrig, 38 degrees from Josh Gibson, 25 degrees from Joe Jackson, 30 degrees from Ferguson Jenkins, 27 degrees from Mamie Livingston, 24 degrees from Mickey Mantle, 25 degrees from Tris Speaker and 25 degrees from Helen St. Aubin on our single family tree. Login to see how you relate to 33 million family members.