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Thu, 05.27.1897

Violet Lewis, Businesswoman born

Violet Lewis

*Violet Lewis was born on this date in 1897.  She was a Black businesswoman and educator. 

Born Violet Harrison in Lima, Ohio, she was the daughter of William David Harrison and Eva Brown Harrison, the second child of six.  In 1915, Harrison graduated from Lima High School and enrolled in the secretarial program at Wilberforce University, graduating in 1917. Around 1918, Lewis obtained her first professional job as secretary to the President of Selma University and instructor in Selma University's business department in Selma, Alabama. She noticed that there were no secretarial classes, so she requested and received permission to start teaching secretarial subjects. 

In 1920, she married Thomas Garfield Lewis, a self-employed house painter, carpenter, janitor, and classical musician. She had two children, they divorced in 1943.  She then had a brief tenure as the Madame CJ Walker Company bookkeeper. From 1920 to 1927, she was employed at the Indianapolis Recorder. During these stints of employment noticed the lack of Black women as secretaries. That absence and the impact of the Great Depression motivated her to establish her own school in her home. Gradually she secured the means to move to a larger location and serve more students. 

On January 28, 1928 she opened the Lewis Business College (LBC), eventually moving it to Michigan.  Lewis Business College and steered it from a nine-month stenographic course to an accredited junior college. The Detroit facility was the U.S. Department of Education’s only designated historical Black college (HBCU) in Michigan.  In 1943, Lewis helped found the Gamma Phi Delta Sorority. In 1952, she founded the March of Dimes Fashion Extravaganza. Between 1953 and her death in 1968, Lewis focused much of her energy on family, friends, travel, and community activism. Violet Lewis died from recurring cancer on March 22, 1968. 

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