Maggie Lena Walker – civic leader
Maggie Lena Walker was an African American entrepreneur and civic leader. Walker was the first woman bank president in the United States.
Maggie Walker was born in 1867 in Richmond, Virginia. Her mother, Elizabeth Draper, married William Mitchell while they were both working in the home of Elizabeth Van Lew, a famous Union spy. A few years later William was found drowned. Elizabeth supported her family by doing laundry. Maggie had to help her mother.
In 1886 she married Armstead Walker and gave birth to three sons, one of whom died in infancy. In 1915 her husband Armstead was shot and killed by their son, Russell, who mistook his father for a burglar.
While she was still in high school Walker joined the Independent Order of St. Luke, which helped African Americans take care of the sick and bury the dead. In 1899, Walker became Grand Secretary Treasurer of the St. Luke organization. She liked to describe the order as a woman’s organization that gave equal opportunity to men.
After graduation from high school Maggie got a job as a teacher.
In 1903, Walker decided the organization needed its own bank. So she helped to establish the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank and became its president. The bank still exists today under the name Consolidated Bank and Trust Company.
Walker was a charismatic speaker whose favorite topics were race pride and unity, women’s problems and potential, African American business, and oppression.
She was the founder and lifelong head of the Colored Women’s Council of Richmond, which raised money for local projects.
Walker published a newspaper called the St. Luke Herald, raised money for a girls’ school, started a visiting nurse service for the poor and sick, and helped to build a hospital.
She spent the last seven years of her life in a wheelchair.
Maggie Lena Walker died of diabetic gangrene on December 15, 1934.