MAGGIE LENA WALKER

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Maggie Lena Walker by Tim Sullivan

Today's fierce female is Maggie Lena Walker.

Born in Richmond, Virginia in 1864, her mother was a newly freed slave, while her father was an Irish journalist. Her father left before she was born. Her mother supported the family as a laundress, while Maggie pursued her education through Richmond public schools. She joined her graduating classmates in 1883 in their peaceful protest over the city’s refusal to allow the use of public buildings for their commencement ceremonies. They were unsuccessful. 

Maggie became active in the Order of St. Luke, a black fraternity dedicated to the advancement of African-Americans. While raising three children, she managed to rise through the ranks, eventually taking leadership over the organization as its grand deputy matron. She inherited the club while it was in severe financial hardship and made the decision to publish a newspaper that could fund order. Her plan worked, and soon she built new headquarters housing meeting space and the newspaper. 

In 1903, Maggie founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, making her the first female bank president in the United States of any race. Her fiscal responsibility and shrewd business sense led membership in the Order to enrollment of over 100k people across 23 states. At the same time, she was a leader in the ongoing civil rights movement, leading a successful boycott of Richmond segregated streetcars that put the company out of business. 

Maggie successfully led the bank through the stock market crash of 1929, ultimately negotiating a merger with other banks into the Consolidated Bank and Trust. She was Chairman of the Board of the Consolidated Bank until she died in 1934 at the age of 70. 

“We realize that our family, the Negro Race, is spending more than a quarter of a million dollars every week . . . and spending that money with a family which will not recognize us as citizens, will not employ our fathers nor our mothers, will not give our sisters or brothers the slightest chance to be benefited by this stream of living water, which we continually furnish daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and that without ceasing, we are going to see if we can try and turn the course of that almighty stream of dollar, and see if we can till our own barren lands, feed our own hungry, and clothe our own naked.”

“Let us put our moneys together; let us use our moneys; let us put our money out at usury among ourselves, and reap the benefit ourselves. Let us have a bank that will take the nickels and turn them into dollars."

“I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but instead with a laundry basket almost upon my head.”

“Woman’s sphere, in truth and justice, should no more circumscribe every woman to the hearth, the broom, the wash tub, the ironing board and the cooking stove, than it should decree that every man should be a grocer, a banker, a printer, a mechanic, or a professional man.”

"I shall hope to conduct myself so as to reflect credit upon my race and people.”

“It is an awful thing to hide our talent in the ground and refuse to work it.”

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