Important Women in Indiana History

Madam C. J. Walker

Some women were definitely busy working for sweeping changes throughout the country, but some women chose to excel at creative pursuits.

Julia Graydon Sharpe (1857-1939)

Born into a wealthy family, Sharpe had many of luxuries at her disposal. Her hobby was painting and in her thirties, Sharpe decided to study art, attending schools as far away as New York. According to Indiana Historical Society, Sharpe was also a fluent writer and she often gave readings to various organizations. She has paintings in several Indiana art museums.

Marie Webster (1859-1956)

Webster was also interested in the arts, her chosen medium was quilting. In fact, she is credited as one of the most influential quilt designers of the twentieth century. She wrote, Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them was the first book dedicated to the topic of quilting and it is still popular today. Impressive for any woman, but Webster didn’t begin designing quilts until she was in her fifties! notes her first fourteen quilts were shown in Ladies Home Journal, earning her nationwide fame. People began asking for her patterns and she started her own mail order business out of her home. Eventually, she founded the Practical Patchwork Company with two friends.

Saint Theodora Guerin (1798-1856)

Saint Theodora is proof that no one was safe from prejudice based on gender or religion. She is credited with founding Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, the oldest Catholic women’s liberal arts college in the nation. Though in poor health for much of her adult life, Saint Theodora, worked to open 10 schools throughout Indiana. It was a long battle from starvation, the elements in rural Indiana, and a Bishop who didn’t want to make things easy. St. Anthony Messenger notes that today, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is still educating women. What started with 10 students has grown to over 1700.

Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919)

Her official website shares the story of how Walker went from being an uneducated child of former slaves, to a successful businesswoman. Walker was the first African American woman to become a millionaire. Quite an achievement when women were still expected to stay home and raise the children.

Suffering from a scalp condition that caused her hair to fall out, Walker tried every homemade and store-bought remedy she could find to correct the situation. Finally, she created her own hair growth product and began selling it door to door.

She also opened Lelia College to train people on her product. She followed that by building a factory, hair and manicure salon, and another training school. In addition, created what may well have been one of the first national meetings of businesswomen in the country – the Madam C.J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America Convention.