Black History Month 2012: Maggie L. Walker

20 Feb

Today we honor and celebrate a teacher and businesswoman who broke through color and gender barriers, Maggie L. Walker. Born to freed slaves in Richmond, VA in 1864, Maggie Lena Mitchell attended the public schools and helped her mother deliver laundry. She taught school for three years until her marriage to Armisted Walker, Jr. His work as a contractor provided a good income, so she focused on raising a family and dedicated herself to the Independent Society of St. Luke, a fraternal burial society that administered to the sick and aged, promoted humanitarian causes ,and encouraged individual self-help and integrity.

In 1902, she launched a newsletter to raise awareness for the group. Realizing that the Richmond chapter required financial stability, she founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. By doing so, she became the first woman to found a bank in the U.S. and the first female bank president. While she maintained a clear head for the business of the bank, she was also dedicated to helping the community and used the bank’s power to help African-Americans in Richmond buy homes and start businesses. By 1929, St. Luke had absorbed all the African-American  banks and become the Consolidate Bank and Trust; Walker became Chair of the bank’s Board of Directors.

Walker fell on the steps of her home in 1907 and injured her knees. The damage eventually became so severe that she was confined to a wheelchair. She used her personal experience and wealth to begin advocating for the disabled as well as the African-American community. She died in 1934, still serving as Chair of the bank and using her influence to make life better for others. Her home is now operated by the National Park Service as a museum and information center dedicated to this remarkable woman.

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