“Let us awake, let us arise… We can do anything, as soon as we learn the lesson of unity.”

– Maggie Lena Walker

Maggie Lena Walker’s Story

Maggie Lena Walker was born in Richmond, Virgina, on July 15, 1864, in the final years of the Civil War. Her mother, a former slave, was a laundress and Walker spent her early years taking in laundry for the white elite of Richmond. She went to school for eleven years and in 1883, graduated from a Black teacher training school where, aside from academics, she was taught the importance of race pride and economic empowerment. Walker joined the fraternal organization the Independent Order of the Sons and Daughters of St. Luke, strengthening her network among Richmond’s black elites.

She started teaching at the Valley School in 1883, but her teaching career ended by 1886 when she married Armstead Walker Jr. According to Virginia law, married women were not allowed to teach, as they were expected to be homemakers. Walker split her time between her family and her work for St. Luke, and was appointed the organization’s grand secretary in 1899. St. Luke was on the verge of bankruptcy and Walker’s vision to uplift the organization was the creation of businesses employing and serving the Black community of Richmond.

She became the first African American female bank president in the United States when she founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1903. At a time when white-owned banks did not accept deposits from Black customers, Walker not only grew her bank, but expanded the economic base of the Black community in Richmond by hiring and training Black women workers, and financing over 600 home and business loans for Black families by 1920. She was the largest employer of Black women in Richmond at the time. Walker turned the Order of St. Luke into a national organization, with over 100,000 members in 2,010 councils in 28 states.

Walker also founded a newspaper, The St. Luke Herald, for which she served as managing editor. Her publication shed light on the racial injustice plaguing the community, and included consistent coverage of Jim Crow legislation and lynchings. In 1905, Walker opened a department store tailored for African Americans. As an activist in the early Civil Rights Movement, Walker organized the first Richmond branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), led a city-wide boycott against segregated streetcars, and promoted women’s suffrage, and voter registration drives. When the stock market crashed in 1929, Walker merged her bank with another Black-owned bank, resulting in the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, which survived until 2005, considered the longest operating Black bank in U.S. history.

After gradual debilitation from diabetes paralyzed her legs in the late 1920s, Walker did not let her physical disability slow her down, constructing a wheelchair and a rolling desk from which to continue her work, and installing an elevator in her home. She died on December 15, 1934.

Featured in the Film

Muriel Miller Branch

Muriel Miller Branch is a historian and biographer and served as the president of the Maggie L. Walker National Foundation for ten years. She wrote Pennies to Dollars: The Story of Maggie Lena Walker and Miss Maggie: The Story of Maggie Lena Walker. Branch has been researching Walker’s life and legacy since 1980.

Faith Elizabeth (“Liza”) Walker Mickens

Faith Elizabeth (“Liza”) Walker Mickens is the great-great-granddaughter of Maggie Lena Walker. She has been a family spokesperson speaking about Mrs. Walker’s history and legacy since she was 5 years old. She is a graduate from James Madison University’s class of 2019 with a major in Communication Studies and a concentration in Public Relations. During her time on campus she was a Student Ambassador, a Global Ambassador, and a Diversity Educator.

Chloe McKenzie

Chloe McKenzie is a wealth literacy expert, leader for wealth justice, and bestselling author. She advises institutions and Fortune 500 companies on how to fight for wealth justice through wealth literacy; and how to attract and retain new and more diverse clientele through more accessible and inclusive financial practices. She is also the CEO of BlackFem, Inc., a nonprofit with the mission to transform school-based learning so that girls of color in underserved communities are empowered with skills, habits, and resources to build and sustain wealth. Her best-selling book, The Activist Investor: Next Gen Playbook to Dismantle Oppressive Business Models, teaches the next generation of investors how to trade stocks like a community activist.

Her Life & Times

Related Stories

Newspaper Editor, Civil Rights Crusader & First African American Woman Vice Presidential Candidate


First Sovereign Queen and Last Monarch of Hawai‘i


Educator, Suffragist, Civil Rights Activist & Co-Founder of the NAACP

1863 - 1954


Books & Secondary Sources

Branch, Muriel Miller. “Walker, Maggie L.” American National Biography, 2004, https://www.anb.org/view/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.001.0001/anb-9780198606697-e-1002267

Branch, Muriel Miller and Dorothy Marie Rice. Pennies to Dollars: The Story of Maggie Lena Walker. Linnet Books, 1997. 

Brown, Elsa Barkley. “Womanist Consciousness: Maggie Lena Walker and the Independent Order of Saint Luke.” Signs, Vol. 14, No. 3, Spring 1989, pp. 610-633. JSTOR. 

Fairfax, Colita Nichols, M. Sebrena Jackson and Jerome H. Schiele. “Maggie Lena Walker and African American Community Development.” Affilia, Vol. 20, No. 1, Spring 2005, pp. 21-38. 

Marlowe, Gertrude Woodruff. A Right Worthy Grand Mission: Maggie Lena Walker and the Quest for Black Economic Empowerment. Howard University Press, 2003.

Meier, August and Rudwick Elliot. “Negro Boycotts of Segregated Streetcars in Virginia, 1904-1907”.  The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 81, No. 4 (Oct., 1973), pp. 479-487. Virginia Historical Society. 

Washington, Booker T. The Negro in Business. Hertel, Jenkins & Co., 1907. 

Online Sources

“Boss: The Black Experience in Business.” PBS, 23 April 2019. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/boss/

“Maggie L. Walker.: Maggie L Walker National Historic Site” National Park Service, 2018, https://www.nps.gov/articles/maggie-l-walker.htm

“Maggie L Walker National Historic Site: Photos & Multimedia,” National Park Service, 2016. https://www.nps.gov/mawa/learn/photosmultimedia/index.htm

“Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, National Park Service: Richmond, United States.” Google Arts & Culture. https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/maggie-l-walker-national-historic-site

Muriel Miller Branch. “Maggie Lena Walker”. Virginia Humanities, Encyclopedia Virginia. https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Maggie_Lena_Walker_1864-1934#start_entry 

National Park Service. “Carry On: The Life and Legacy of Maggie Lena Walker,” YouTube, created by Ethan P. Bullard, 14 March 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QR3CexPZXEk

Norwood, Alisha R. “Maggie L. Walker.” National Women’s History Museum, 2017, https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/maggie-l-walker

“Our Inspiration: The Story of Maggie Lena Walker.” PBS Learning Media, 1998. VPM/Community Idea Stations, https://ny.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/a9dedf68-e383-4d04-85a0-0a5ac0ed2eac/our-inspiration-the-story-of-maggie-lena-walker/

Want To Cite Us?

To cite UNLADYLIKE2020 using MLA, use the following template: "Name of woman." UNLADYLIKE2020, Unladylike Productions, LLC, 2020. Page referenced URL. Date accessed.