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Violet Lewis Was an Indianapolis Business Pioneer  

2024-03-17 – BE&O SuSt

When she opened a business school to train Black secretaries, Violet Lewis became a business pioneer in Indianapolis.

Almost 100 years later, Violet Lewis’s legacy is carried on by her granddaughter, Dr. Violet Ponder, and Pensole Lewis College in Detroit, Michigan. The current school has shifted its focus away from training secretaries and is the only design-focused HBCU in the country. 

Dr. Ponders said that when her grandmother started Lewis Business College in 1928, only a few students were enrolled, and Lewis would have her sister sit in the window and pretend to study to catch the eye of pedestrians.  

The school would soon move to a space on Indiana Avenue, an area very familiar to Violet Lewis, who had previously worked for Madam C.J. Walker. After years of growth and sending many women to work in high-profile companies across Indianapolis, Lewis moved her school to Detroit in 1939, seeking larger enrollment.   

“She was all about making her students experts,” Dr. Ponder says about her grandmother. Like her, Dr. Ponder continues her legacy by working with the students at Pensole Lewis College and even briefly serving as its president.