IHS completes digitization project with help from grant
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — More than 40,000 items relating to one of Indiana’s icons are now accessible from anywhere in the world. The Indiana Historical Society (IHS) is pleased to announce the completion of the Madam C.J. Walker Digitization Project, supported by a $79,928 Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
In late 2018, IHS learned it was one of 17 institutions nationwide to be awarded the CLIR grant, which focuses on digitizing rare and unique content. IHS assigned a special team to complete the 12-month project to digitize, catalog and make available online tens of thousands of IHS collection items relating to Madam C.J. Walker, an activist, entrepreneur and philanthropist whose beauty product empire made her one of the wealthiest women of her time.
“When the trustees of the Madam Walker estate donated the papers of the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company in 1982, we had no idea that they would become one of IHS’s most popular archival troves,” said A’Lelia Bundles, Walker biographer and descendant. “I believe that access to Madam Walker’s personal letters and business records will transform the way everyone — from scholars to National History Day students — does research about her.”
Madam Walker’s papers are just one piece of the rich collection, which spans 95 years and includes artifacts, documents and photographs. Examples include correspondence from well-known personalities such as educator Mary McLeod Bethune, scholar W.E.B. Dubois and activist March Church Terrell. The collection also contains the personal and business papers of Walker’s daughter A’Lelia Walker, her attorney Freeman B. Ransom and others who worked for the company, as well as records relating to beauty schools and agents.
“I predict that visitors who first encounter the gorgeous vintage photographs, letters and advertisements will have a hard time breaking away from the website,” said Bundles.
In addition to being made available online, the newly digitized images and information were incorporated into IHS’s newest exhibit, “You Are There 1915: Madam C.J. Walker, Empowering Women.” The exhibit, on display now through Jan. 23, 2021, takes visitors back in time with the help of costumed actors and a recreation of Walker’s Indianapolis office.
Visitors can tour the exhibit and view the collection materials in person at the History Center, home of IHS and the “Indiana Experience,” located at 450 W. Ohio St. in downtown Indianapolis. The History Center is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Researchers can access the Madam C.J. Walker Collection online through IHS’s website, other libraries’ portals through WorldCat and general internet searches. For more information, visit www.indianahistory.org or call IHS at (317) 232-1882.
About the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR)
The Council on Library and Information Resources is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions and communities of higher learning.
About the Indiana Historical Society (IHS)
Since 1830, the Indiana Historical Society has been Indiana’s Storyteller™, connecting people to the past by collecting, preserving and sharing the state’s history. A private, nonprofit membership organization, IHS maintains the nation’s premier research library and archives on the history of Indiana and the Old Northwest and presents a unique set of visitor experiences called the Indiana Experience. IHS also provides support and assistance to local museums and historical groups; publishes books and periodicals; sponsors teacher workshops; produces and hosts art exhibitions, museum theater and outside performance groups; and provides youth, adult and family programs. IHS is a Smithsonian Affiliate and a member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.