Sadie Bell was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi in the early 20th century. Her father came alone to Beloit to work for Fairbanks Morse as a moulder for a few years before moving his family to Beloit. Sadie's mother had died in Mississippi when she was very young, so an aunt moved in to raise the children, and came with them to Beloit. Of the five children, one died in Pontotoc, and another died shortly after moving to Beloit. After living with Sadie's maternal uncle for some time, the family moved into a house on Athletic Avenue. Sadie enjoyed her childhood living on Athletic Avenue. The family did not have a car, so she and her family members had to walk to school, to work, and anywhere else they needed to go. She attended Strong Elementary School, with her sister, who was a year younger than her.
Sadie and her friends played by the train tracks and waded in Turtle Creek. Of this time, she said, "We were so innocent, and so we'd go and get on those big blocks of ice and float around. And our parents didn't even know we were over there. It's really...it's amazing that we were alive. That was great!" (Sadie Bell Interview, 1976) While attending Roosevelt Junior High, Sadie began to experience changes in her relationships with her friends. Her white friends would be friends with her away from school, in their neighborhood, but not in school. Sadie interpreted the change from elementary school as coming from other classmates’ parents: "But I think this came from more or less-they would learn this from children in another neighborhood where there maybe wasn't any blacks. You know. The parents had maybe told them 'You're different'"(Sadie Bell Interview, 1976).
In high school she felt discouragement from white teachers about taking classes that prepared students for careers that were not commonly available to Black people. Sadie dropped out of a bookkeeping class due the discouraging environment and lack of job prospects for young Black people in Beloit. After high school, Sadie found work washing dishes in Beloit. After some time, she felt that she needed to look for a different job outside of Beloit:
"I couldn't find a job, and I had been doing dishes for people, and I decided that I just wasn't going to do it anymore. And I was always one that went to school out on my own, so I went on the Greyhound down to Rockford, and I went in. And then I decided that I wanted to get away from this, I just wasn't going to wash dishes for anybody anymore." (Sadie Bell Interview, 1976)
Sadie was hired at W. T. Grant's in Rockford. She worked in an office checking in packages and womens' purses, and managing layaways. Sadie later worked at Sears in Beloit.