America's First Female Self-Made Millionaire
In celebration of International Women's Day this week, I wanted to write about a strong female figure who is a cultural icon to Indianapolis. As a female business owner, I greatly admire this woman's entrepreneurial spirit, ambition, and the success she built in the face of adversity.
Madam C.J. Walker was the Nation’s first female self-made millionaire in America who became one of the wealthiest African-American women in the country through her line of beauty and hair care products for black women. In 1910, she settled in Indianapolis and in 1927 built Walker Manufacturing; a factory, hair and manicure salon, and training school.
Segregation laws were still in place during this time but African-Americans living in Indianapolis continued to persevere, fight for their rights, and build community. Many black entrepreneurs, including Madam Walker, opened businesses along Indiana Avenue which continued to develop during the “New Negro Movement” of the 1920s.
Segregation laws changed in the 1950s and by 1965, much of Indiana Avenue had been abandoned. In the 1980s, much of the area was demolished with the exception of the Walker Manufacturing building which was restored and reopened in 1988.
Today, the factory is home to the Madame Walker Theatre Center and plays an integral part in the community as the neighborhood continues to grow. Their mission is to empower, educate, and entertain. This historical building is a venue for celebrating cultural diversity, a rich heritage and cultural traditions, primarily through art from the African-American perspective.