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Trendsetter: Madame CJ Walker — The First Female Self-Made Millionaire in America

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madame CJ Walker was born December 23, 1867 in Delta, La., to Owen and Minerva Breedlove. She was the first child in her family born into freedom.

He parents died when she was a young girl, so she moved in with her older sister and brother-in-law. Her brother-in-law was a tyrant, so at the age of 14 she married her first husband Moses McWilliams. Their daughter, Lelia McWilliams, was born when Sarah was just 17 years old and unfortunately by the time their daughter was 2, her husband had passed.

Sarah remarried in 1906 to a newspaper advertising salesman named Charles Joseph. The two met in St. Louis when she relocated their with three of her brothers, who were barbers at a local barbershop. The two later moved to Pittsburgh in 1908 and opened Lelia College to train what they called “hair culturists.” Two years later they moved to Indianapolis and set up her headquarters there as well as built her factory.

Watch the video below to learn more about Madame CJ Walker’s journey from rags to riches.The Guinness Book of Records named Walker as the first woman to be a millionaire by her own achievements.

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