Ethel Waters was born in Chester, Pa. , the daughter of Louise Anderson, who was raped at knifepoint at the age of twelve by John Waters. Her father, whom she never knew, was murdered by poison when Waters was three. She had a half sister, born to her mother in a later marriage, and perhaps as many as three half brothers from her father, by Waters's own account. Raised by her maternal grandmother, Sally Anderson, and living sometimes with two aunts whom she described as sometimes abusive alcoholics, Waters had an early childhood marked by constant moving that fostered toughness and street smartness. Sally Anderson found occasional employment as a live-in housekeeper and cleaning woman but was often unable to feed and house herself and Waters properly. Nevertheless, her faith and personal strength influenced Waters, and she remembered her grandmother's example throughout her life. Growing up in the slums and red-light districts of Philadelphia and its outlying areas, Waters was no stranger to desperation. She learned to fend for herself early on, occasionally stealing food to keep from going hungry. Her friends and acquaintances included the neighborhood prostitutes and petty thieves. Her grandmother, a devout Catholic, enrolled Waters, at age nine, in a multiracial Catholic school in Philadelphia. The nuns inspired awe, respect, and a lifelong love of God that sometimes stood in stark contrast to her daily existence.