Growing up in Indianapolis I’ve always been familiar with the name Madam Walker, as it’s posted high above an impressive building in the heart of downtown. As I got older I learned more and more about this remarkable woman and what she contributed to her craft and to the community of Indianapolis.
Born Sarah Breedlove, Madam C.J. Walker officially changed her name after the marrying her third husband in 1905. By that time she had been experimenting with various hair product formulas, and selling her wares door to door in St. Louis. Many women of color struggled in the early 1900s with scalp issues and losing their hair, and Madam Walker aimed to ease these maladies. In 1910 she established a successful beauty school and laboratory in Indianapolis, with the Madam Walker Manufacturing Company being established in 1927. She is credited as being the first American self-made female millionaire.
The Madam Walker Manufacturing Company operated in Indianapolis from the late 1920s until the mid-1980s, and is now the iconic Walker Theatre Center on Indiana Avenue downtown. This theatre has seen such performers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Patti LaBelle, Michael Bolton and others, as well as a number of other performances and cultural events.
You can visit Walker Theatre as a patron for a variety of different events (check their calendar here) but regularly on the last Friday of every month for Jazz on the Avenue. This event features local jazz favorites and attendees can purchase a soul-food meal for dinner, as well. Tickets are $10 and dinner is an additional $10. On the first Friday of every month the Walker Theatre displays a variety of visual art featuring new local artists each month, as well.
Tours are offered at the Walker Theatre by appointment only Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. To schedule a school field trip or general tour email firstname.lastname@example.org (subject line either “School Tour” or “General Tour”) Tours are $8 for adults, $5 for students; groups of 10 or more are $5 each.
The Walker Theatre also houses the History & Heritage Center that displays nearly 3-dozen exhibits showcasing a number of personal and business memorabilia from Madam C.J. Walker. This center is run by volunteers, so to visit please email or call Fran Mayes at email@example.com or 317-236-2099.
Lastly, be sure to stop by The Alexander to see a really cool piece of art dedicated to Madam Walker – hint: it’s made completely out of COMBS!