Maggie Lena (née Draper Mitchell) Walker (July 15, 1864 – December 15, 1934) was a businesswoman and teacher. In 1903, Walker became both the first African American woman to charter a bank and the first African American woman to serve as a bank president. As a leader, Walker achieved successes with the vision to make tangible improvements in the way of life for African Americans. Disabled by paralysis and a wheelchair user later in life, Walker also became an example for people with disabilities.

Maggie Lena (née Draper Mitchell) Walker (July 15, 1864 – December 15, 1934) was an American businesswoman and teacher. In 1903, Walker became both the first African American woman to charter a bank and the first African American woman to serve as a bank president.[2] As a leader, Walker achieved successes with the vision to make tangible improvements in the way of life for African Americans. Disabled by paralysis and a wheelchair user later in life, Walker also paved the way for people with disabilities.

Maggie Lena Walker
Born
Maggie Lena Draper

(1864-07-15)July 15, 1864
DiedDecember 15, 1934(1934-12-15) (aged 70)
Occupation(s)Bank founder, businesswoman, teacher, newspaper publisher.
Known forFirst African American woman to charter a bank in the United States[1]

Along with her leadership of the Independent Order of St. Luke, Maggie Walker was also involved with the NAACP, The National Association of Colored Women, the National Urban League and National Negro Business League, and the United Order of Tents.[3]

Walker's restored and furnished home in the historic Jackson Ward neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia has been designated a National Historic Site, operated by the National Park Service.

Childhood

Maggie Lena Draper was born on July 15, 1864, the daughter of Elizabeth Draper and Eccles Cuthbert.[4][5][a] Her mother, a former slave, was an assistant cook at the Van Lew estate in Church Hill of Richmond, Virginia, where she met Cuthbert, an Irish American journalist for the New York Herald, based in Virginia. There is no record of a marriage between Draper and Cuthbert.[4][3]: 1–2  Draper was employed by Elizabeth Van Lew, an abolitionist and philanthropist who had been a spy for the Union during the Civil War (1861–1865) in the Confederate capital city of Richmond.[4][3]: 1–2  Draper married William Mitchell, a butler at the Van Lew estate, soon after Maggie Walker's birth. In 1870, Maggies's half-brother, Johnnie Mitchell was born to Elizabeth and William Mitchell.[4]

After William Mitchell became headwaiter at the Saint Charles Hotel, the Mitchell family moved to their own home on College Alley off of Broad Street nearby Miss Van Lew's home where Walker and her half-brother Johnnie were raised.[4][3]: 2  The house was near the First African Baptist Church which, like many black churches at the time, was an economic, political, and social center for the local black community.[3]: 3  After the untimely death of William Mitchell, Walker's mother supported her family by working as a laundress. Walker attended the newly formed Richmond Public Schools and helped her mother by delivering clean clothes.[4]

When she was fourteen years old, Walker joined the local council of the Independent Order of St. Luke. This fraternal organization was originally established as a burial society in 1867 in Baltimore, Maryland by Mary Prout. The Independent Order of St. Luke ministered to the sick and aged, promoted humanitarian causes, and provided long-term economic and social support in the post-slavery, Reconstruction-era United States by acting cooperatively to provide African Americans with access to education, healthcare, banking, and insurance, among other services..[7]

Teaching career

After graduating from the Richmond Colored Normal School in 1883, she taught for three years at her former school, the Valley School, also known as the Lancasterian School for a wage of thirty-five dollars a month.[8] Her employment ended once she was married, in accordance with school policy against employing married women.[4]

Women's Union

While working at Valley School she also worked part time as an insurance agent with the Woman's Union and took night classes in accounting. [8] The Woman's Union (WU) was a cooperative organization of women engaged in businesses to meet the needs of Richmond Virginia's black community.[8]

Independent Order of St. Luke

After leaving her teaching position in 1886, Walker devoted herself to the Order and rose steadily through its ranks.[9] She served in numerous capacities of increasing responsibility for the Order, from that of a delegate to the biannual convention to the top leadership position of Right Worthy Grand Secretary in 1899.[7] Walker saved the Independent Order of St. Luke from the brink of collapse after the financial mismanagement of its previous leader, William Forester, doubling the number of members within her first year at the top.[3] Walker's social change activities with the Independent Order of St. Luke demonstrated her keen consciousness of oppression and her dedication to challenge racial and gender injustice.[10]

A pioneering insurance executive, financier and civic icon, she established the Juvenile Branch of the Order in 1895 while serving as grand deputy matron.[9] This branch encouraged education, community service, and thrift in young members.

Maggie L. Walker served as the leader of the order until her death in 1934. Soon after, Walker's daughter-law, Harriet N. F. Walker, took over her position and led the order until 1957.[11]

Establishment of the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank

In 1902, she published The St. Luke Herald, a newspaper for the organization. Shortly after, she chartered the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. Walker served as the bank's first president, which earned her the recognition of being the first African American woman to charter a bank in the United States.[12] Charles Thaddeus Russell was Richmond's first black architect and he designed the building for Walker.[13] The St. Luke Penny Savings Bank's leadership also included several female board members.[14] Later Walker agreed to serve as chairman of the board of directors when the bank merged with two other Richmond banks to become The Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, which grew to serve generations of Richmonders as an African-American owned institution.

 
Maggie L. Walker statue at the Virginia Women's Monument

Personal life

On September 14, 1886, in Richmond, she married Armstead Walker Jr. (1860–1914), a brick contractor.[4] They adopted a daughter, Polly Anderson, and had three sons: Russell Eccles Talmadge Walker born in 1890; Armstead Mitchell Walker born in 1893, but died seven months later; and Melvin DeWitt Walker who was born in 1897.[4] The Walkers purchased a home in 1904 at 11012 East Leigh Street, within the African American Jackson Ward neighborhood of Richmond. It was enlarged over the years to accommodate their children's families.[4]

On June 20, 1914, Walker's son, Russell Walker, at age 24–25, shot and killed his father, Armstead, having mistaken him for a burglar, for whom both he and his father had been searching. Russell was arrested and charged with murder and, after five months awaiting trial, was declared innocent. The loss left Walker to manage a large household. Her work and investments kept the family comfortably situated.

Russell, however, never recovered from the incident and after eight years battling depression and alcoholism, died November 23, 1923.[4] After Russell's death, his wife Harriet, or Hattie, and their daughter Maggie Laura Walker, moved in with Maggie Walker in Richmond. Hattie became a trusted advisor to Maggie within the Independent Order of St. Luke, quickly moving up the ranks.[3]

Walker was inducted as an Honorary Member of the Nu Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta sorority at the chapter's first meeting in 1926.

Legacy

 
Maggie Walker High School, Richmond

In 1905, Walker was featured alongside other African American leaders, such as Mary Church Terrell, T. Thomas Fortune, and George Washington Carver in a poster titled, "101 Prominent Colored People".[15]

Walker received an honorary master's degree from Virginia Union University in 1925, and was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2001.[16]

In Walker's honor Richmond Public Schools built a large brick high school adjacent to Virginia Union University. Maggie L. Walker High School was one of two schools in the area for black students during the Jim Crow era; the other was Armstrong High School. Generations of students spent their high-school years at the school. It was totally refurbished to reopen in 2001 as the regional Maggie L. Walker Governor's School for Government and International Studies.

The St. Luke Building held the offices of the Independent Order of St. Luke, and the office of Maggie L. Walker. Walker's daughter-law, Harriet N. F. Walker, honored Maggie Walker's memory and worked to preserve her legacy. As late as 1981, Walker's office was preserved as it was at the time of her death in 1934.[17] The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.[18]

 
Maggie L Walker National Historic Site, Richmond

The National Park Service operates the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site at her former Jackson Ward home. In 1978 the house was designated a National Historic Site and was opened as a museum in 1985. The site states that it "commemorates the life of a progressive and talented African-American woman. She achieved success in the world of business and finance as the first woman in the United States to charter and serve as president of a bank, despite the many adversities. The site includes a visitor center detailing her life and the Jackson Ward community in which she lived and worked and her residence of thirty years. The house is restored to its 1930s appearance with original Walker family pieces."[19]

The National Park Service summarizes Walker's legacy with the statement, "Through her guidance of the Independent Order of St. Luke, Walker demonstrated that African American men and women could be leaders in business, politics, and education during a time when society insisted on the contrary."[20]

Walker was honored as one of the first group of Virginia Women in History in 2000.[21]

 
statue of Walker
 
Maggie L. Walker Memorial Plaza

On July 15, 2017, a statue of Walker, designed by Antonio Tobias Mendez, was unveiled at the Maggie L. Walker Memorial Plaza on Broad Street in Richmond.[22] The bronze, 10-foot statue shows a depiction of how she lived, with her glasses pinned to her lapel and a checkbook in hand.

In 2020, Walker was one of eight women featured in "The Only One in the Room" display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.[23]

Notes

  1. ^ She was previously thought by most scholars to have been born in 1867 until 2009.[4] When she married Armistead Walker Jr. in 1886, her birth year was stated to be 1864.[6]

References

  1. ^ Norwood, Arlisha R. (2017). "Maggie L. Walker". Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  2. ^ "Early Women in Banking," Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, National Park Service, last updated November 15, 2019
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Marlowe, Gertrude Woodruff (2003). A Right Worthy Grand Mission: Maggie Lena Walker and the Quest for Black Economic Empowerment. Howard University Press. ISBN 0882582119.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Maggie Lena Walker (1864–1934)," contributed by Muriel Miller Branch, Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Humanities, first published April 12, 2010, last modified January 20, 2020; OCLC 957340568 (retrieved April 13, 2020)
  5. ^ "Maggie Mitchell (Magie Mitchel)", U.S. Federal Census, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1870, She was six years old in 1870, living in Richmond, Virginia with William and Lizzie Mitchell and Johnnie Mitchell
  6. ^ "Maggie L. Mitchell and Armistead Walker Jr.", Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940, Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013
  7. ^ a b National Register of Historic Places (April 2018). "St Luke Building Update, page 8" (PDF). Retrieved October 29, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c Garrett-Scott, Shennette (May 7, 2019). Banking on Freedom: Black Women in U.S. Finance Before the New Deal. Columbia University Press.
  9. ^ a b E. B. Brown, Womanist Consciousness: Maggie Lena Walker and the Independent Order of Saint Luke, Signs, 14, 3 (1989), 610–633; Gertrude Woodruff Marlowe, A Right Worthy Grand Mission: Maggie Lena Walker and the Quest for Black Empowerment (Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 2003).
  10. ^ Schiele, J. H., M. S. Jackson, & C. N. Fairfax (2005). "Maggie Lena Walker and African American Community Development". Journal of Women and Social Work. 20: 26, 35. doi:10.1177/0886109904272012. S2CID 144767262.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ "Independent Order of St. Luke (U.S. National Park Service)". www.nps.gov. Retrieved December 6, 2023.
  12. ^ Tonya, Bolden (January 3, 2017). Pathfinders : the journeys of 16 extraordinary Black souls. New York. p. 53. ISBN 9781419714559. OCLC 928751148.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  13. ^ Kollatz Jr., Harry (December 5, 2016). "Russell House Revival". Richmond Magazine. Retrieved January 6, 2022.
  14. ^ Daina Ramey Berry; Kali Nicole Gross (2020). A Black women's history of the United States. Boston. ISBN 978-0-8070-3355-5. OCLC 1096284843.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  15. ^ Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, National Park Service https://www.nps.gov
  16. ^ Congressional Record—Extensions of Remarks (April 26, 2001), page E646 "https://www.congress.gov/crec/2001/04/26/CREC-2001-04-26-pt1-PgE646.pdf".
  17. ^ Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff (April 1981). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: St. Luke Building" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
  18. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  19. ^ "Determined Spirit," Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, National Park Service, last updated February 28, 2020
  20. ^ "Legacy," Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, National Park Service https://www.nps.gov/museum/ exhibits/Maggie_Walker/legacy.html (accessed June 2, 2017)
  21. ^ "Virginia Women in History 2000 Maggie Lena Mitchell Walker". June 30, 2016. Retrieved December 13, 2016.
  22. ^ Rosenwald, Michael S. (July 14, 2017). "The first woman to start a bank — a black woman — finally gets her due in the Confederacy's capital". Washington Post. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  23. ^ "Maggie Lena Walker". National Museum of American History. May 11, 2020. Retrieved July 25, 2020.

Further reading

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