Maggie L. Walker, 1864-1934

  • Maggie-L.-Walker-WWP

Woman Category: Business & Entrepreneurship and Economics & FinanceWoman Tags: African-American Women, Businesswoman, and Educator

  • HerStory

    Businesswoman, educator, and civil rights activist. The first woman in the US to found a bank and to serve as its president.

    Maggie Lena Walker was born in Richmond, Virginia. Her mother was a former slave, and her biological father was Irish. She attended the Lancaster School and then the Richmond Colored Normal School, both educational institutes for African-Americans. After her stepfather has died, her mother worked as a laundress, and Walker helped her deliver the clothes to their white clients. During this period, she became aware of the differences between white people’s quality of life and African-Americans’.
    At 14, Walker volunteered at the local council of the Independent Order of St. Luke – a fraternal organization dedicated to the social and financial advancement of African Americans. After graduating high school and been trained as a teacher, she taught at the Lancaster School for three years. She was forced to leave her job after getting married to Armstead Walker Jr. since the school’s policy was not to employ married women. Walker dedicated her time and efforts to the Order. There, she served in numerous positions, receiving more responsibility and rising through the Order’s ranks. When she was 31 years old, she was appointed Grand Deputy Matron and established the Order’s Juvenile Branch, providing community services and education for its young members.
    In 1899, at the age of 35, Walker became the Order’s grand secretary – the highest leadership position in the organization, which she held for the rest of her life. In this capacity, Walker founded a community insurance company for women, and in 1902, she established St. Luke Herald, a newspaper that carried news of the Order to spread its educational work to local chapters. The newspaper published information regarding hygiene, training children in thrift habits, and financial tips to move up the economic ladder. In the following year, Walker chartered the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank and served as its first president. The first woman in the US to found a bank and to serve as its president. By 1924, the bank served more than 50,000 members in 1,500 local chapters in Virginia, West Virginia, Massachusetts, and Maryland. Walker has managed to protect the bank during the Great Depression, and by 1930 the bank absorbed all other African American-owned banks in Richmond. It was renamed the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, and Walker served as chairman of its board. In 1905, Walker opened the St. Luke Emporium, providing the African-American community access to cheaper merchandise. In all of the Order’s business, Walker maintained a workforce of primarily African-American men and women, enabling job opportunities other than household work and higher wages.
    In addition to her work at the Order, Walker co-founded the Richmond Council of Colored Women and served in leadership positions in various organizations, including the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), the Richmond chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Virginia Industrial School for Girls.
    During the Jim Crow-era, Walker has managed to promote social change, educational opportunities, and economic empowerment for African-American women and men, fighting oppression, racism, and gender injustice. She passed away at the age of 70.

    “I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth but with a clothes basket almost upon my head. I have come upon the rough side of the mountain.”

    “I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth but with a clothes basket almost upon my head. I have come upon the rough side of the mountain.”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She encouraged the young population to save their money for the future, and the bank served children.
    • In her last years, due to diabetic complications, she had to use a wheelchair.
    • In 1905, she was featured in a poster titled- “101 Prominent Colored People.”
    • She had four children.
    • In 1914, her son shot and killed his father, mistaken him for a burglar.
    • She was one of eight women featured in “The Only One in the Room.” A display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in 2020.
    • A statue of her was unveiled on Broad Street in Richmond in 2017.
    • Her home at 110 1/2 East Leigh Street Richmond, Virginia, has been designated a National Historic Site and a museum celebrating her life and legacy.
    • Her office in the St. Luke Building is preserved as it was when she died in 1934.
    • Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies is named in her honor.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * An honorary master's degree from Virginia Union University (1925)
    * Inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame (2001)

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

    No Records Found

    Sorry, no records were found. Please adjust your search criteria and try again.

    Google Map Not Loaded

    Sorry, unable to load Google Maps API.


  • "Carry On: The Life and Legacy of Maggie Lena Walker"

    This orientation film from the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site traces the trials and triumphs of Richmond's pioneering banker and civil rights activist. Combining the latest scholarship with rarely seen archival images, this narrated documentary chronicles Walker's unique leadership and her enduring influence on the struggle for social justice. Narrated by Zeke Alton with Daphne Maxwell Reid as the voice of Maggie L. Walker.

    written & directed by Ethan P. Bullard, Museum Curator, Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site.

    Visit for more information

    ¡Ahora con subtítulos en español!

  • Photo credit - The Browns @ Wikipedia

  • Citations and Additional References:
    Black Enterprise website.
    Wikipedia page.