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Violet T. Lewis

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Violet T. Lewis
Violet Temple Harrison

(1897-05-27)May 27, 1897
DiedMarch 23, 1968(1968-03-23) (aged 70)
Alma materWilberforce University
Occupation(s)Educator, businesswoman
Known forFounding Lewis College of Business and Gamma Phi Delta
Thomas Garfield Lewis
(m. 1920; div. 1943)

Violet T. Lewis (May 27, 1897 – March 23, 1968) was an American businesswoman and educator who founded the Lewis College of Business in 1928, the only historically black college in Michigan.[1]

Early life[edit]

Lewis College of Business in Detroit, Michigan

Lewis was born Violet Temple Harrison on May 27, 1897, in Lima, Ohio.[2] She was the second of the six children of William and Eva Harrison.[2] She graduated from Lima High School in 1915.[3] She attended Wilberforce University from 1915 to 1917.[2]


Lewis' first job was as secretary to the president of Selma University in Alabama. She also taught secretarial classes in its business department. She later moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, where she worked as a bookkeeper.

After noticing a large number of young unemployed people, Lewis took a $50 loan and opened the Lewis Business College in 1928 in Indianapolis.[4][5] Lewis started her own radio program, "The Negro Melody Hour", with a hope of boosting enrollment to the college. The program made her the first black radio announcer in Indiana.[2]

Lewis owned multiple small businesses in Indianapolis, including an ice cream shop and a store selling Christmas trees and fireworks.[6] She started an additional school in Detroit, Michigan in 1939, which opened the following February.[7] Lewis eventually closed the Indiana college once the college's success in Detroit became apparent.[1]

She later founded the Gamma Phi Delta sorority.[5]

Honors and awards[edit]

Lewis received a posthumous honorary doctorate from Wilberforce University. In 1992, she was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame.[2] In 2021, a portion of the M-10 highway in Detroit was named the Violet T. Lewis Memorial Highway.[8]

Personal life[edit]

She married Thomas Garfield Lewis in 1920 and had two children before their divorce in 1943.[9] Lewis died on March 23, 1968, at the age of 70.[10]


  1. ^ a b Boyd, Herb (June 2, 2017). "Violet T. Lewis, educational trailblazer and founder of Lewis College of Business". New York Amsterdam News. Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e Grant, Lyndia (February 17, 2021). "THE RELIGION CORNER: A Black History Tribute to Violet Temple Lewis". The Washington Informer. Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  3. ^ Jokinen, Beth (October 18, 2003). "Book chronicles life of business college founder". The Lima News. p. 12. Retrieved December 4, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  4. ^ Boyd, Kendra (September 18, 2020). "A "Body of Business Makers": The Detroit Housewives League, Black Women Entrepreneurs, and the Rise of Detroit's African American Business Community". Enterprise & Society. 23 (1): 195.
  5. ^ a b Schanz, Jenn (February 3, 2022). "How Violet T. Lewis Started A College With Just A $50 Loan". Newsy. Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  6. ^ Boyd, Kendra (May 2017). The Great Migration and Black Entrepreneurship in Detroit (PhD). Rutgers University. p. 220.
  7. ^ "Business School Pleases Students". Michigan Chronicle. February 3, 1940. p. 4. Retrieved December 4, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  8. ^ Grant, Lyndia (August 11, 2021). "THE RELIGION CORNER: Michigan's Only HBCU Founder Honored with Highway Designation". The Washington Informer. Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  9. ^ "Violet Lewis, Businesswoman born". African American Registry. Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  10. ^ "Founder of Business College Dies at Home". Muncie Evening Press. March 25, 1968. p. 20. Retrieved December 4, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.

External links[edit]