America’s first black female millionaire — and the first woman of any race to become a self-made millionaire — built an empire from nearly nothing in one of the most spectacular rags-to-riches stories in U.S. history.
When Sarah Breedlove was born on this day, Dec. 23, in 1867, to former slaves on a Louisiana cotton plantation, she had already achieved a milestone as the first of her parents’ five children born into freedom. Still, the odds were heavily stacked against her. Orphaned at 7, married at 14, and widowed at 20, she became a single mother earning $1.50 a day as a washerwoman.
And while her 1919 obituary in the New York Times portrays her meteoric rise to business success as something she simply decided to do one day — “One morning while bending over her wash she suddenly realized that there was no prospect on her meager wage…
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