Richmond’s History Makers

Maggie L. Walker

A daughter of former slaves, Elizabeth Draper Mitchell and William Mitchell, Maggie Lena Walker, the first woman in the United States to become a president of a local bank, was born in Richmond July 15, 1867.

Her parents worked in the mansion of the abolitionist Elizabeth Van Lew for a few years until her father got a job as the headwaiter at the Saint Charles Hotel. Walker’s father was murdered in a robbery so her mother supported the family with a laundry business. She attended the Lancaster School and the Armstrong Normal School.

Since the age of 14 she was a member of the Grand United Order of St. Luke, an African-American fraternal and cooperative insurance society founded in Baltimore. The order was established to assure proper health care and burial arrangements of its members.

Walker graduated in 1883 and taught at the Lancaster School until she married Armstead Walker Jr. in 1886. The couple had three children, though one died in infancy. Walker began publishing a newsletter, the St. Luke Herald, to increase awareness of the activities of the organization.

The following year she opened St. Luke Penny Savings Bank and became its president. The Penny Savings Bank absorbed all other black-owned banks in Richmond in 1929 and it became the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company.

Walker helped found the Richmond Council of Colored Women in 1912 and became its president. Her son, Russell Ecles Talmade mistook his father for a prowler and fatally shot him in 1915. Walker died in 1934 from diabetes gangrene.

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