“The woman and man are equal in power and should by consultation and agreement, mutually decide, as to the conduct of the home and the government of the children.” Maggie Lena Walker
Maggie Lena Walker was the first female bank president in the United States. She used her economic and social position to make the lives better for other women. Walker urged women to better themselves educationally and financially and encouraged them to save a portion of their pay. “A Richmond Times Dispatch news article of August 23, 1924, reports that “the $31 that was placed in her hands has grown until the order has collected $3,480,540.19.”
Name: Maggie Lena Walker
Birth Date: July 1867 – December 1934
Job Functions: Banker, Entrepreneur and Civic Leader
Fields: Banking and Finance
Known For: First African American Banker
Maggie Lena Walker was born just after the American Civil War ended to Elizabeth Draper (freed slave) and Eccles Cuthbert, an Irish-born newspaperman. Her mother married William Mitchell and she was named Maggie Mitchell. After her stepfather died, her mother supported the two of them by working as a laundress. While Mitchell was 14 years old, and still in high school, she joined the local chapter of the Independent Order of St. Luke in Richmond, Virginia. St. Luke was a bank, an insurance company and social club rolled into one, founded by Mary Ann Prout in Baltimore. Even though things were tough, each week Maggie’s mom found the 10 cents to deposit at the Independent Order of St. Luke. The organization gave its members assistance during times of illness and death.
Walker loved mathematics and was very good at it. And in 1883, at 15 years old, Walker graduated at the top of her class from the Richmond Normal and Colored School, a teacher’s high school. The blacks graduating class of 10 were not allowed to use Richmond Theater, the city auditorium for their graduation like their white counterparts, but were banished to receive their diplomas at an African American church. The group demonstrated, and historian Wendell Dabney, who was also one of the 10, called it “the first school strike of Negroes in America.” Officials and the principal of Richmond Normal compromised and the black graduating class would be allowed to sit in the balcony, while the while graduating class in the main area. The graduating class rejected the compromise brokered by their principal Elizabeth Knowles and instead received their diplomas at a ceremony held in their school auditorium.
At the time, there weren’t many job options for black women – laundress, servant or teacher for black children. None of these options excited her. Walker wanted to attend business school, which was expensive, so she decided to become a teacher at the Lancaster School and save for school. Walker earned $20 each month in wages – she gave some of the money to her mother for food, bought whatever she needed personally, bought books and school supplies for the students because they couldn’t afford to buy for themselves, and whatever was left over she saved for business school.
Walker taught until she got married to Armstead Walker when she was 19. They had two sons. She never once lost sight of her goal to attend business school, and continued her involvement with the Independent Order of St. Luke. When Walker had saved enough funds, she attended business school at night. By the time she was 32 years old, she had acquired her degree in business.
Starting in 1883, Walker attended many Independent Order of St. Luke conventions and her influence quickly spread beyond the local level. In 1899, Independent Order of St. Luke held its 32nd annual convention, and it was discovered that the organization was in crisis and close to bankruptcy. They had $31.61 in its treasury, but $400 in unpaid bills. Walker was nominated as St Luke’s executive secretary; she accepted and won the post. Walker was hired at $8 a month, $12 less than what she was earning as a teacher.
MAGGIE LENA WALKER
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Walker worked tirelessly to bring St. Luke back to financial health, and traveled extensively to other chapters. She also founded new ones. She was an excellent orator and talked against segregation. Walker was charismatic and an excellent leader and people trusted and liked her. She advocated that blacks should help themselves and become economically independent from whites. Within a year of her appointment, Walker had doubled membership. She expanded St. Luke’s customer base from hundreds to thousands.
She was an advocate for women, especially black women and sought to hire more. Whenever she conducted the interviews, if the women were qualified she hired them, and once they were on board, she encouraged them to save a portion of their salary. The approach Walker took, was that when each woman saved $50, they would be able to borrow whatever funds they needed to buy a home, start a business or attend school. There were times when the women could not enter a career of choice because it was early twentieth century and women were still not accepted in certain positions, but Walker always did her best to help women.
Some of Walker’s recommendations to bring St Luke’s back to financial health included buying the building in Richmond instead of renting, and prepared the calculations to support her recommendation; introducing a new bookkeeping system; creating a newspaper, the St Luke’s Herald (1902); and creating a savings bank, St Luke Penny Saving Bank of Richmond (1903). The Independent Order of St. Luke purchased 200 shares of stock in the bank, 75 percent of which was available to organization members. Walker became the president of St Luke’s Penny Savings Bank, the first woman to hold such a position. She earned $25 a week. St Luke’s Penny Savings Bank was changed to the St. Luke Bank and Trust Company, and with Walker at the helm of the bank, it was one of the most successful banks in Richmond.
Walker recognized that to instil a culture of saving, she would have to start with children. She went into the schools to talk to the children, and as soon as black children were able to work, she’d encourage them to save a portion of what they earned, and provided them with a cardboard box in which to save their pennies. In a short time, 20,000 black children had accounts at her Penny Bank.
Walker stayed with Independent Order of St. Luke for 35 years growing the bank from 3,000 members to 100,000, a large percentage of them being women. She estimated that the bank assisted over 700 black families in owning their own homes.
Continuous learning was very important to Walker, so despite being extremely busy, she enrolled at Virginia Union University, studying the latest in banking methods. When she was almost 60 years old in 1925, she graduated with a Master’s in Business Administration. Walker also made time for civic responsibilities.
For instance, she edited the St Luke’s Herald for over 30 years. She also raised funds for black girls and served on the board of the National Training School for Girls, was on the executive committee of the National Association of Colored Women, a board of director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and trustee of Hartshorn College and Virginia Union College. Walker founded and led the Colored Women’s Council of Richmond.
In 1907, Walker fell down and damaged her knees, in 1915, her son Russell mistook his father for a burglar and shot and killed him. By 1928, Walker was confined to a wheelchair and died in 1934.
Walker became very wealthy, and her home is now a national historic landmark, administered by the National Park Service. “The library walls are lined with pictures of friends: Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Mary McLeod Bethune, Langston Hughes, and many others. The shelves are full of books on African American history and life.”
Maggie Walker’s Steps to Success
- Hard work, intelligence and kindness.
- Introduced a culture of saving, by starting with children, and made it possible for them to do so.
- Stood up for what she believed in.
- Created businesses around a need in the community.
Why Maggie Walker’s Contribution Matters
Maggie Lena Walker advocated for women’s economic empowerment. She also went into the schools to educate black children on the importance of savings, providing them with cardboard savings boxes.
Lessons from Maggie Walker
- Persistence pays.
- Get an education and make continuous learning a priority.
- Stand up for what you believe.
- Serve others by helping them to become better and stronger.
Maggie Lena Walker National Historic Site (http://www.nps.gov/mawa/index.htm)
Maggie Lena Walker – YouTube video (http://youtu.be/SBuDSLrRKBU)
Black History Month – Madam C J Walker, Operated the Largest Black-Owned Business in the Early Twentieth Century
Wisdom of Life: Abraham Lincoln, 16th President, Led America through the Civil War
Women of Wisdom: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Abolitionist and Author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Wise Women: Jane Addams, Pioneer in Social Reform, Founder of Hull House and First American Woman to be Awarded a Nobel Peace Prize
Booked for Mentoring: Book Review – Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Women in World History
Notable Black American Women
Almanac of Famous People
Black Women of Valor by Olive Woolley Burt
Contemporary Black Biography
Encyclopedia of World Biography
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YouTube video credit: MAGGIE LENA WALKER Uploaded by bucklaw on Feb 22, 2010