On Sunday, Jan. 6, 1929, in Indianapolis, Indiana, Mary Ella (Caldwell) Helms, the wife of George Luther Helms, gave birth to Lee Alma, the sixth of 11 children. At the age of 16, Lee Alma received her baptism at Mount Paran Baptist Church, Indianapolis. She graduated from Crispus Attucks High School in 1948 and, in 1949, she earned a diploma from the Madame C. J. Walker College of Beauty Culture. She also received certification from the Poro Colleges of Cosmetology.
On Feb. 29, 1952, she married Ernest L. Bradley, Jr., her former prom date, then serving in the U.S. Air Force.