Maggie Lena Walker(1867-1934)

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Maggie Lena Walker was the first woman in the United States to become a president of a local bank. Born on July 15 in 1867 in Richmond, Virginia. She was a daughter of former slaves, Elizabeth Draper Mitchell and William Mitchell, who worked in the mansion of the abolitionist Elizabeth Van Lew. After a few years of living at the mansion, her father got a job as the head waiter at the Saint Charles Hotel and the family moved to a small house in town. Young Maggie attended the newly formed Richamond public schools and helped her mother by delivering the clean clothes. She taught grade school for three years until, in 1886, when she married Armstead Walker Jr., a brick contractor. Later She opened the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank and became its president. The bank’s goal was to facilitate loans to the community. By 1920, the bank helped purchase about 600 homes. By 1924, the Independent Order of St. Luke had 50,000 members, 1500 local chapters, a staff of 50 working in its Richmond headquarters and assets of almost $400,000. Walker was the first female bank president and the first woman to charter a bank in the United States. As a leader, she achieved successes with the vision to make tangible improvements in the way of life for African Americans and women. Disabled by paralysis and limited to a wheelchair later in life, Walker also became an example for people with disabilities. Mrs. Walker’s health gradually declined, and by 1928 she was using a wheelchair due to paralysis. Despite her physical limitations, she remained actively committed to her life’s work including serving as leader of the Independent Order of St. Luke and chairman of the bank until her death on December 15, 1934. She is buried in Richmond’s Evergreen cimetery.

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