Madam C. J. Walker (1867-1919)

Sarah Breedlove (December 23, 1867 – May 25, 1919), known as Madam C. J. Walker, was an African American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a political and social activist. Eulogized as the first female self-made millionaire in America, she became one of the wealthiest African American women in the country. Walker made her fortune by developing and marketing a line of beauty and hair products for black women through Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, the successful business she founded. Walker was also known for her philanthropy and activism. She made financial donations to numerous organizations and became a patron of the arts. Villa Lewaro, Walker’s lavish estate in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, served as a social gathering place for the African American community. The Madame Walker Theatre Center opened in Indianapolis in 1927 to continue her legacy. Both of these properties are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1882, at the age of fourteen, Sarah married Moses McWilliams, possibly to escape mistreatment from her brother-in-law. Sarah and Moses had one daughter, Lelia McWilliams, born on June 6, 1885. When Moses died in 1887, Sarah was twenty; Lelia was two years old. Sarah remarried in 1894, but left her second husband, John Davis, around 1903 and moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1905.

In January 1906, Sarah married Charles Joseph Walker, a newspaper advertising salesman she had known in Missouri. Through this marriage, she became known as Madam C. J. Walker. The couple divorced in 1912; Charles died in 1926. Lelia McWilliams adopted her stepfather's surname and became known as A'Lelia Walker.

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