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Urban Dig Targets Site of Madam CJ Walker Factory, Home

Urban Dig Targets Site of Madam CJ Walker Factory, Home

Newswise — This summer Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis students will learn archaeological theory and field excavation methods on the grounds of the Indianapolis home and factory of one of America’s earliest affluent female entrepreneurs.

The IUPUI 2009 Archaeology Field School will conduct excavations at the site that includes Madam C.J. Walker’s home and the neighboring store and Walker Company office that Walker first rented when she moved to Indianapolis in the early 1900s.

Walker, the daughter of formerly enslaved African Americans, had a personal and business worth of more than $2 million at her death in 1919, having made her fortune through the manufacture and sales of hair care and beauty products.

The IUPUI archaeological project is expected to uncover items associated with the Walker Company’s industrial operation, along with domestic refuse from Walker and her neighbors, says IUPUI Professor Paul Mullins, the Field School project director.

“We are going to get an interesting picture of the most prosperous entrepreneur in Indianapolis in the early 20th century, as well as the lives of the working class families who lived right alongside her,” Mullins said.

Unearthing bits of china, flatware and household items or personal care items would provide a few details and illuminate the personal interests of Walker, says A’Lelia Bundles, Madam Walker’s great-great granddaughter and author of the Walker biography, “On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker.”

Scholars and others now can view Madam Walker's business and personal letters at the Indiana Historical Society, “but it would be a wonderful piece of the puzzle if we all could see even more personal items that had belonged to Madam Walker and others in her household,” Bundles, an IUPUI Community Scholar, said.

The dig site is located in the 600 block of North West Street (now Martin Luther King Drive) in Indianapolis. The Archaeology Field School is open for to any undergraduate student. The credit course begins Wednesday (May 13, 2009) and ends June 24, 2009.

The excavation site is in the shadow of the current Madame Walker Theatre Center which Madam Walker's daughter, A'Lelia Walker, opened in 1927. Today the center hosts musical, scholarly and cultural programs; and is open for tours by appointment.

Given the historic significance of the site, the dig can contribute to the understanding of American history, says Cynthia Bates, president of the Walker Theatre Center.

For additional information, please see the Field School Website at:

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