Born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867, on the same Delta, Louisiana, plantation where her parents had been slaves until the Civil War, Walker was a businesswoman, social activist and philanthropist. After marrying and moving to St. Louis she began to make and sell hair and skin products for African-American women.
Employing her married name, she founded the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Co. Traveling widely to sell her products and to train saleswomen and customers in their use, she built a large business and social network.
By 1916, she had become an outspoken voice for political and social reforms and shared her wealth by supporting the NAACP, black colleges, orphans' homes and other institutions. Considered the first self-made African American businesswomen. Beginning in 1910 she resided in Indianapolis, where she relocated her production facility.
Madame Walker died May 25, 1919. The Madame C.J. Walker Building on Indiana Avenue, which has long symbolized the spirit of creativity and community pride in Indianapolis, opened in 1927.