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Sharing Madam Walker’s History Online

In December 2019, we completed a yearlong project to digitize the library’s collections on one of Indiana’s icons. The purpose of the Madam C.J. Walker Digitization Project was to digitize and catalog 40,000 documents, photographs and artifacts from the library’s Walker collections and make them available online. We assigned a special digitization team to complete this project with a project coordinator, scanning technicians and a metadata cataloger.

In addition to overseeing the grant, the project coordinator was responsible for selecting Walker collection items for digitization. Materials with strong research interests received priority. If an item had condition issues, it was sent to IHS conservators for treatment. Some of these treatments included surface cleaning, page mending and mold removal.

Men and women in a car decorated for a parade.

Beauty College student parade float in Tulsa, Oklahoma, circa 1920s (Madam C.J. Walker Supplemental Collection, IHS)

IHS in-house technicians and an outside team from RecordsPro in Indianapolis used flatbed scanners, book scanners and cameras to create digital images of the Walker collection materials.

Once the digital images were created, the metadata cataloger uploaded them to the Madam C.J. Walker section of our digital collection at These digitized images appear in online records created by the cataloger. Important information – or metadata – about the Walker collection materials is available in these records, including titles, dates, locations, subject headings and descriptions.

Woman in gown and cloak wearing a crown with a W and holding a trophy.

Chicago beauty shop owner and Madam C.J. Walker College of Beauty Culture graduate May Haynes won a nationwide Walker hairstyling contest in 1944. (Madam c.J. Walker Collection, IHS)

The Madam C.J. Walker Digitization Project has increased the accessibility of the Walker collections because these materials are now offered beyond the physical walls of the William H. Smith Memorial Library at the History Center. The rich online collection – available worldwide – includes articles of incorporation, board meeting minutes, personal and company correspondence, clinic and trade show demonstrations, patents and trademarks, and advertisements. There are also resources related to the Walker Casino, Coffeepot, Drug Store, Theatre, Beauty Colleges, Benevolent Association and Villa Lewaro. Together, these materials help provide a detailed story of Madam C.J. Walker, her company and her enduring legacy.

Access the digital collection here. Read more about how the Madam C.J. Walker Collection is being conserved here.

Featured image: Madam Walker in Indianapolis, circa 1910 (Madam C.J. Walker Collection, IHS)

This project is supported by a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources. The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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