You Are There 1915: Madam CJ Walker at the Indiana History Center

Have you ever wanted to see Madam CJ Walker’s invention up close? Have you wanted to ask her more about her life as the first woman millionaire in America? Now you can! Take an instant step back in time when you visit the “You Are There 1915: Madam CJ Walker, Empowering Women” exhibit at the Indiana History Center.

Who Was Madam CJ Walker?

Madam CJ Walker was named Sarah Breedlove when she was born in 1867. The fifth child in her family, she was the first child born free after the Emancipation Proclamation. She married Charles Joseph Walker and became known as Madam CJ Walker. When she experienced hair loss in the 1890’s, she began experimenting with store-bought and homemade treatments, then later invented “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.” In 1910, she moved her headquarters to Indianapolis.

What Can You Do at the Exhibit?

When you walk into the You Are There exhibit, you’ll first see a display about Madam CJ Walker, her life, and her business. My kids enjoyed trying to do the laundry like Walker had to when she was a laundress before becoming a businesswoman. It is in a large wooden basin and a lot heavier than you’d think. And Walker only earned $1 per week for all her hard work. There are also several pictures of Madam Walker displayed from throughout her life. We never knew that she was on a postage stamp in 1998, or that she was a philanthropist and activist. You can also see hair tools from the early 1900’s, such as hot combs and early curling irons. Your kids will love comparing them to the ones they see today. There are even tins of Madam Walker’s Wonderful Temple Salve and her Wonderful Hair and Scalp Preparation.

Our favorite part of the exhibit was visiting Madam CJ Walker at the factory where her beauty product empire began. The display is an exact replica of her 2nd story office in the factory at 640 N. West Street. An actress playing the part of Walker talks to you as though you are visiting her in 1915. She answers all of your questions and shows you around the office and her home. We learned when and where she was born, how old she was when she had her first baby, and when she moved to Indianapolis, along with other fun facts. My kids loved trying out her telephone. They had to ring the operator to be connected to the person they were trying to call. We all enjoyed listening to her explain how to use her hair tools and other circa 1915 products in her home, including how she got hot water in the sink.

What Should I Know Before Visiting?

Admission to the “You Are There” exhibit is included with regular admission to the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center. Located at 450 West Ohio Street, Indianapolis, it is open from 10am to 5pm Tuesday through Saturday. Admission price for adults is $13, seniors (60 and over) is $12, youth (ages 5-17) is $5 and children under 5 are free. Free parking with admission is available in the lot off of New York Street.

Other “You Are There” exhibits currently on display include 1927: Gennett Studio, about an Indiana music company that impacted music styles across the country, and 1920: Celebrate Indianapolis, about the centennial pageant. All displays will be at the Indiana Historical Society until 2022.

 

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