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Maggie Lena Walker's St. Luke Penny Savings Bank

Feb 27, 2024 10:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho

Maggie Lena Walker was an African American entrepreneur and civic leader who broke traditional gender and discriminatory laws by becoming the first Black woman to establish and become president of a bank in the United States—the Saint Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond.

Her bank offered checking and savings accounts, mortgages, and investment capital for local entrepreneurs, who would help shape Jackson Ward into a thriving center for Black businesses. At the same time, Walker also handed out small coin banks to help customers save at home and encouraged them to come back to St. Luke when they had accumulated at least a dollar.

Walker was born to a former slave and a White abolitionist on July 15, 1864, in Richmond, Virginia. After the Civil War, her mother worked as a laundress and her father as a butler in a popular Richmond hotel. Walker’s father was killed and she had to help her mother financially by working. he attended a local school in Richmond and upon graduation, began teaching. She stepped down from teaching after she married a successful brickmaker.

When Walker was 14, she joined the Independent Order of St. Luke’s, an African American benevolent organization that helped the sick and elderly in Richmond.

In 1886, she married Armstead Walker Jr., who had graduated from Richmond Colored Normal School and worked as a brick mason, his father's trade. Walker's work with the Independent Order of Saint Luke and her husband's occupation enabled them to become members of a growing African American middle class in Richmond. 

They purchased their own home in Richmond's Navy Hill neighborhood, where they lived until 1905 when they moved into the home they had purchased the previous year on East Leigh Street, known as Quality Row in the city's Jackson Ward. They eventually expanded the Victorian Gothic house, built in 1883, to twenty-eight rooms to accommodate their extended family.

Although as an African American woman in the post–Civil War South she faced social, economic, and political barriers in her life and business ventures, Walker achieved tangible improvements for African Americans by encouraging investment and collective action. At the 1901 annual convention of the Independent Order of St. Luke, Walker laid out her goals for her organization, including the formation of a bank, an emporium, a newspaper, and a factory.

Relegated to second-class citizenship, African Americans were denied rights in all aspects of life: education, employment, politics, and business. Walker's bank, along with other Black-owned businesses, provided spaces to conduct business away from the racism and harsh treatment often found in White-owned businesses.

In 1910 the bank was reorganized and renamed the St. Luke Bank and Trust Company. Walker remained president of the bank, but it was no longer part of the Independent Order. During the Great Depression, while other banks failed, Walker kept the St. Luke bank alive by merging it with two other banks to create the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company in 1929.

In 1908, Walker injured her kneecap and was confined to a wheelchair. She became a role model for people with disabilities. She died on December 15, 1934. The National Park Service operates her restored and furnished home in the historic Jackson Ward neighborhood of Richmond. Maggie Lena Walker died at her Richmond home on 15 December 1934. She was buried in the city's Evergreen Cemetery following a funeral attended by hundreds of people, including the mayor.

As of 2010, when it was known as Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, it was the oldest continually African American–operated bank in the United States. In her role as grand secretary of the Independent Order of Saint Luke, Walker was also indispensable in organizing a variety of enterprises that advanced the African American community while expanding the public role of women.


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 Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.  

She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content. 

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