I’m always fascinated to learn about women in history who were able to make a better life for themselves and those around them.
Maggie Walker was an African American businesswoman who defied the odds and made history during the atrocities of the Jim Crow era.
Maggie was born in Virginia during the Civil War in 1864. Her family lived a somewhat comfortable life until her father died, leaving them impoverished. As a child, Maggie helped her mother with her laundry business and quickly learned what it takes to be a hard worker.
After graduating from a segregated high school, Maggie began teaching at a public primary school for Black students. In 1886, Maggie married Armstead Walker Jr. and had to leave her teaching job, as at that time, married women were not permitted to teach.
Around this time, Jim Crow laws had been implemented in the South, and racial discrimination and violence were at a dangerous high. Many Black communities knew how imperative it was to stay united during this time, so Maggie became very involved with the Independent Order of Saint Luke, an African-American organization dedicated to charity work and helping marginalized communities.
Maggie became a passionate leader for the Independent Order of Saint Luke, publicly speaking against racial discrimination and expanding their outreach. In 1901, she founded a newspaper for the organization called the St. Luke Herald. She increased the organization’s membership by thousands during her 35 years with them.
In the early 1900s, Maggie made a historical stride when she chartered the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank and became the first African American woman to open a bank in the United States and serve as a bank president. The bank allowed African American people to make independent financial decisions without being mistreated or taken advantage of.
Through the bank, Maggie became a successful businesswoman despite many odds against her. The bank was considered the oldest continually African American-operated bank in America all the way into the early 2000s.
In addition to being a hardworking activist, leader, and businesswoman, Maggie was a mother to two sons she had with Armstead. When he passed away in 1915, she was able to keep her large household afloat and financially supported her family so they could live comfortably.