Maggie Lena Walker was born on July 15th, 1864 in Richmond, Virginia. Despite being brought up in a humble background, she defied the odds to become a prominent businesswoman and a teacher. She was the first African-American woman to charter a bank in the United States in 1902. Her solid leadership character and success helped in improving the way of life of African Americans and women in general.
Maggie was born just two years and two months after the American Civil War. Her parents; Mr. Eccles Cuthbert and Mrs. Elizabeth Draper worked hard to take care of their children’s wellbeing despite the hard life in the U.S. Her mother was a former slave and an assistant cook in Church Hill Mansion of Elizabeth Van Lew while her father was a writer. After the death of her father, her mother worked as a laundress to support the family while Maggie helped her to deliver the clean clothes.
Maggie enrolled for her schooling in Richmond Public Schools where after her graduation she continued to teach grade school for three years.In 1886, she was married to Armstead Walker Jr. and their marriage marked the end of her teaching career. She decided to dedicate herself in caring for her family and empowering the Independent Order of St. Luke. Her husband had a well-paying job meaning the family was able to afford a decent living.
Independent Order of St. Luke was a society that helped the sick and aged, upgraded humanitarian causes and encouraged personal self-help and integrity. She served in various positions such as; increasing responsibility for the Order from that of a delegate to the biannual convention then to the top position of Right Worthy Grand Secretary which she was nominated in 1899 and held the position until her death.
In 1902, “The St. Luke Herald”which was the organization’s newspaper was published in order to promote communication between the Order and the public. In 1903, she established St. Luke Penny Savings Bank which she became its first president and was given the honor of being the first black woman to charter a bank in the United States. Later when the bank merged with other two Richmond banks to form The Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, she served as the chairperson of the board of directors.
Later in life Maggie was paralyzed and was confined to a wheelchair. Despite of her disability, she remained active in her daily duties and was a living example to people with disabilities. Her health deteriorated and on December 15, 1934, Maggie died at the age of 70. Today, her former Jackson Ward home is being operated as a historic site by the National Park Service. Her house was designated in 1978 as a National Historic site and opened in 1985 as a museum.