Maggie Lena Walker was an African American banker, business women and civic leader who overcame adversary and discriminating laws by becoming the first women, white or black, to establish and become the president of a bank in the United States. Walker was born in 1864 in Richmond, Virginia. Her mother Elizabeth Draper was a former slave who worked as an assistant cook for Elizabeth Van Lew. While working at the Van Lew estate Draper met an Irish American abolitionist writer Eccles Cuthbert who was Maggie’s biological father. Draper later married William Mitchel, a butler of the Van Lew estate. The two had a son together in 1870, Walker’s half-brother Jonnie. Walker went to school in Richmond, Virginia at the Lancaster School and later graduated from the Richmond Colored Normal School in 1883 to become a teacher. Following graduation she returned to the Lancaster School and taught for three years until she married Armstead Walker Jr. in 1886. Due to a school policy, Walker retired from teaching once she was married.
In 1881, Walker joined the Independent Order of the Sons and Daughters of St. Luke, a fraternal organization. After she left the Lancaster school she rose through the ranks of the organization and used her position to encourage young African Americans to continue their education and serve the community. When she became president of the organization she completed reserved the order of St. Luke’s funds and within five years the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank opened for business. When the bank was opened she encouraged young African Americans to begin savings and investing in banks early so their funds would grow and they could create economic independence from white employers.
After the economic downturn from the Great Depression, Walker and the other bank leaders of were forced to merge with two other banks to become Consolidated Bank and Trust. In the later years of life, Walker was faced with health issues that confined her to a wheelchair, but this did not slow her down. Walker remained president of her bank until December 15, 1934 when she died from diabetic gangrene. Today Maggie Walker's former home at 110 ½ East Leigh Street has been designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975 and is maintained by the National Park Service.
Citations: Branch, M. M. Maggie Lena Walker (1864–1934). (2013, December 23). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Maggie_Lena_Walker_1864-1934 [viewed 2 September 2015] Maggie Lena Walker (1864–1934). In Virginia Memory. Retrieved from http://www.virginiamemory.com/online_classroom/shaping_the_constitution/people/maggie_lena_walker [viewed 2 September 2015] The progress of colored women / by Mary Church Terrell, Washington, D.C.: Smith Brothers, Printers . . .,  Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Daniel A.P. Murray Pamphlets Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.rbc/lcrbmrp.t0a13