Upholstered Wheel Chair and Writing Table

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Upholstered Rolling Chair with Writing Table (reproduction)

Maggie L. Walker was no stranger to adversity. She spent her life overcoming prejudices such as racism and sexism. She faced her physical impediment with the same pragmatism and determination. Mrs. Walker suffered a gradual debilitation from Type II Diabetes, a relatively misunderstood illness in that era. Complicated by an old knee injury, Mrs. Walker’s diabetes degenerated so that she could no longer move her legs by the late 1920s.

The ever-adaptive Mrs. Walker had a special wheelchair constructed. This rolling-chair, as she called it, differed from the traditional wood, metal, and wicker wheelchair that she had also purchased. The homemade rolling-chair was a comfortable upholstered armchair mounted to a platform on four wheels with two sets of metal handles and a wooden foot rest. Maggie Walker’s devout chauffeur, Alphonso Robinson, used the handles to hoist Mrs. Walker into the house or limousine which she had modified to accommodate her rolling-chair. The most essential addition to the rolling-chair, however, was a detachable wooden writing desk. Determined to maintain her countless leadership positions, Mrs. Walker continued to write letters, sign checks, and draft speeches from the comfort of her portable office. At a time when physical disabilities had the public stigma of  “weakness,” Mrs. Walker commissioned several photographs capturing her at work in her rolling-chair, defiantly overcoming one of her life’s many hurdles.

In an endearing gesture, Alphonso Robinson wheeled Mrs. Walker’s empty chair down the aisle of Sixth Mt. Zion Church during the 1935 IOSL Maggie L. Walker Memorial Convention. The IOSL decorated the chair with mourning cloth and affixed the slogans “Lest We Forget” and “Carry On.” With Mrs. Walker at rest, her rolling-chair now stood as her proxy, continuing to empower and inspire the next generation in the fight for civil rights.

Upholstery, wood, metal.
Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, MAWA 7229

Writing Table
Wood, iron. H 32.5, W 47, L 60 cm
Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, MAWA 527

Maggie L. Walker