- “Go to Hell!
Oh, I've been there, thank you. I found it quite lovely!”
- ―Winnifred's answer to Billy's insult
Winifred and her two younger sisters live in a cottage on the outskirts of Salem in the late 1600's. At some point in her life, she sold her soul, and possibly the souls of her sisters, to Satan in exchange for magical powers and an invaluable spellbook that could magically change its contents to suit any situation.
She enjoyed a relationship with William "Billy" Butcherson when she was a young woman, but when she discovered him cheating on her with her sister Sarah, she flew into a jealous rage and fatally poisoned him, sewing his mouth shut with a dull needle so that he could not reveal her secrets even in death.
Winifred is highly dramatic, sadistic, and temperamental, which makes her all the more deadly if one isn't careful. Extremely vain, she is deeply offended whenever she is called ugly and swiftly punishes anyone who dares do so. When she caught her lover, Billy Butcherson, cheating on her with her beautiful sister Sarah, she flew into a jealous rage and poisoned him, sewing his lips shut with a dull needle for good measure.
As the eldest of her sisters, she is their leader, though she probably would be anyway due to her cunning and competence, traits which her sisters lack. Mary is her right-hand witch and compliments Winnie constantly, but Sarah's air-headed idiocy in particular frequently exasperates Winnie to no end. However, she tolerates them either because her idolized mother asked her to, or because they each have invaluable, unique powers necessary for her plans. Her own unique power is electrokinesis, which can easily and painfully subdue pesky older siblings who get in her way.
But if there is one thing she truly loves in the world, it is her beloved spellbook. Given to her by the Devil himself and able to magically change its contents to fit the situation, it is a priceless treasure that she absolutely adores. She is at her most caring, her most kind when she speaks to her book.
Her spellbook helps her find the perfect spells and potions to cause misfortune to others, be it painfully transforming her victims into other creatures or brewing a potion to suck away their life-force. She enjoys harming others with wicked glee and even when facing execution, her sarcastic, cruel sense of humor remains unfazed.
Winifred's most striking feature is her fiery red hair, which she wears in a distinctive, curled bouffant style. She wears shades of green that contrast nicely with her hair in the form of a richly-embroidered velvet robe over a green and deep purple dress. Eyebrow-less, buck-toothed, and with claw-like fingernails, Winifred cuts a memorable figure enhanced by her strongly rouged cheeks and uniquely lipsticked mouth.
In 1693, the Sanderson Sisters, now graying and stooped with age, decide to brew the Life Potion, which will steal the life force of a child to restore their own youth and vitality. As Winifred and Mary work on the potion, they send Sarah out to lure a child with her siren-like voice. She soon returns with a young girl named Emily Binx, whom they bewitch in no time to sit docilely in a chair as they finish up the potion. However, just after Emily obediently drinks the potion, the girl's elder brother Thackery interrupts them and attempts to rescue her. Mary and Sarah gleefully chase him around the room, but he manages to knock them down by shoving their enormous cauldron at them, spilling the rest of the potion in the process. A furious Winifred easily subdues him with her powers before Mary points out that the potion is working: Emily's life force is visible. The sisters eagerly crowd around Emily and suck her life force away until their youth is restored and Emily dies of old age.
Rejoicing at the success of their potion, the witches then turn their attention to Thackery. Winifred initially plans to simply kill him, but she changes her mind when he calls her a hag and decides that he deserves a harsher punishment. Together with her sisters, she curses him to live forever in the form of a black cat, doomed to live for all eternity with the guilt of his failure to save Emily.
Just after they perform the spell, an angry mob arrives at their cottage, led by Emily and Thackery's parents. Winifred and Mary attempt to barricade the door and convince the crowd that they're merely spinsters spending a quiet evening at home, but air-headed Sarah impulsively adds that they've been killing children before her sisters can stop her. Soon enough, the sisters are captured and hanged. But before they die, Winifred casts one final spell declaring that on Halloween night when the moon is full, a virgin will summon them back from the dead, allowing them to once again claim the lives of all the children in Salem.
A full three-hundred years later, the Sisters are revived when someone lights the Black Flame Candle, which mysterious powers can summon them back from the dead- but only for a single night. Nevertheless, the Sisters are overjoyed at returning to their cottage, even more so when Mary announces that she smells children. Her powerful nose leads them straight to a young girl's hiding place, forcing her, Dani, out into the open. They pick her up and almost succeed in throwing her into their cauldron when Dani's older brother Max -the one who lit the Candle- jumps out of hiding, demanding that they release his sister. Amused, Winifred easily subdues him with her powers. Winifred practices her witchcraft on him, delighted that she hasn't lost her touch at all. However, Dani and Max's friend Allison manages to wallop Mary with a frying pan as Dani hits Winifred and Sara with her candy bag. Before Winnie can retaliate, a black cat attacks her out of nowhere, giving Dani enough time to wake up her dazed brother. Max triggers the sprinklers, which he convinces the witches is a "burning rain of death". The cat orders Max to grab the witches' spellbook, batting at him impatiently when Max stares at the talking cat in shock. Nevertheless, he breaks into the glass case containing the book and makes his escape along with the cat.
The sisters find them at the cemetery and Winifred summons her ex-lover, Billy Butcherson to get her book back. The sisters encounter a bus driver and rode on the bus, until Mary smelled children. But they were confused when the children were wearing costumes. They encounter a man dressed as Satan and mistaking him for their true master and his wife to be Medusa (a woman with snake-like curlers in her hair), but were so chased out of the house by the man's wife but finds their brooms gone after they were taken by some children dressed like the sisters. When Winifred unmasked a kid in a costume, she realizes the truth of Halloween that children wear costumes and run amok.
The sisters went to a Halloween party where Max's parents and Max, Dani and Allison tried to warn them, but they didn't believe them, so Max went to the stage and used a microphone to tell everyone about the Sanderson Sister and revealed them, but Winifred ridicules him before singing "I Put a Spell on You" therefore enchanting all the adults causing them to dance until they die. After this they went to Max and Allison's high school where Max spoke through the microphone at the office telling them that the spellbook is here. The sisters heard a voice taking about a book which the sisters think it know about the spellbook, but it was actually a tape recording and were unwittingly lead to a klin where the children locked the door and burned them alive after Allison gets an idea from a restaurant.
However, they did not die due to the curse protecting them from death until sunrise. Mary used her smelling to find Max, but they were lead to two high school bullies, Jay and Ernie (better known as Ice) as Ernie was wearing Max's shoes that he stole them during their first encountering with Max and making fun of him. After Jay called the sisters ugly chicks, the sisters captured them and took them to their cottage locking them in small hanging cages. Knowing they don't have much time left, Winifred tried to make the potion from memory, but she can't remember the ingredients and called out to her book and cried in despair.
Allison and Max, despite the warnings that nothing good can come from the book, open it to find a cure Thackery's immortality and the book sends out a signal after being opened. Winifred saw the signal and used a corn broom, while Sarah used a mop and Mary used a Hoover vacuum cleaner to fly to its location. They secretly invade the house and grabbed the book, Thackery, and Dani, but after accidentally breaking some glass and knowing that Max and Alison would come to get Dani and Thackery, they hid in the closet as Sarah hid under the blankets. Max and Alison arrived and the sisters revealed themselves. The sisters violently exploding from the house, but not before Winifred reveals the nature of the spell that brought them back to Allison.
Winifred and Mary made their way back to the cottage while Sarah sang her siren song to all the children of Salem so they will go to the house. When Dani called her ugly, Winifred decides to kill her first. After brewing the potion again they try to get Dani to drink it, but are stopped by Max who tricks them into thinking the sun has risen by using the headlights of his parents' car and Max drained all the potion. However they realize they have been tricked and Winifred was upset that her potion was all gone, but there was still enough potion left for one child. Despite Sarah and Mary saying that they have Jay and Ernie and that more children are here, Winifred wanted to used it on Dani as revenge for calling her ugly.
The sisters chased after them and Winifred ordered Billy to kill Max, but he used Max's knife to sever the stitches on his lips, he apparently breaks the control Winifred has over him and joins the kids against them. Dani is put on Billy's grave while Allison circles some salt around to prevent the witches from reaching her. The sisters arrived and fought the kids and Billy. When Winifred knocked down Billy's head, Dani came out to give Billy his head back giving Winifred the opportunity to grab her. Winifred takes out the vial of potion and tried to force Dani into opening her mouth to drink it, but Thackery saves Dani by knocking the last vial of the life stealing potion out of Winifred's hand and Max catches it. Winifred grabs Thackery and threw him to a rock. Max threatens to smash the vial of potion, but Winifred threatens to kill Dani if he did. With no other choice, Max drinks the potion and Winifred lets Dani go and grabs Max trying to suck his life force, but Max tried to hold her off while Dani, Allison, and Billy hold back Sarah and Mary to prevent them from helping Winifred by grabbing the plug hanged from Mary's vacuum cleaner. They let go causing the two sister to fly high up to the air out of control and letting Max and Winifred fall to the ground. Winifred recovers and tries to steal Max's life force, but because she is standing on hallowed ground, she turns to stone as the sun came up. Sarah and Mary both explode, with Winifred's statue doing so afterward.
Winnie and her sisters returned in a special Castle Show at the Magic Kingdom. During the show she and her sisters try to brew the perfect Halloween Potion, receiving assistance from various Disney Villains. After completing the Potion she celebrates by singing "I Put a Spell on You".
- Bette Midler has said that of all the roles she's played, Winifred Sanderson is her favorite. She even dressed as Winifred once again for Halloween in 2016.
- Winifed says "Hello Salem, my name is Winifred. What's yours?" in a nod to the famous line from Gypsy. Mama Rose says "Hello world, my name is Rose, what's yours?". Bette Midler played Mama Rose in the TV version of the musical.