America's First Female Self-Made Millionaire

Walker Theatre Indianapolis

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, the building of Walker Manufacturing became complete; 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.

Madame CJ Walker

Walker Theatre Tours

Tour the Historical Madame C.J. Walker Theatre

The Madame Walker Theatre Center houses a 935 seat theatre, a grand ballroom, memorial boardroom, beauty salon, a history and heritage center and office space for local entrepreneurs and cultural non-profits. Schedule a tour to see original pieces of Madame C.J. Walker’s plant, business papers, and products. You will also have a photo opportunity on the historical stage where musical greats such as Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Gladys Knight have performed.

To schedule a general tour, please call 317-236-2099 or email srobinson@thewalkertheatre.org.