Life at Home
Mrs. Walker lived in her elegant Victorian townhouse from 1905 until her death in 1934. Built by an African American doctor, the house is located in Jackson Ward, the most elite black neighborhood in Jim Crow Richmond. The 100-block of East Leigh Street was known as Quality Row because its residents were predominantly successful black professionals Today, Jackson Ward is a National Historic Landmark District, the largest of such devoted to African American history.
Maggie Walker relished the comfort and camaraderie of loved ones and she chose to keep her family close by. The Leigh Street household included her two sons, Russell and Melvin; their wives, Hattie and Ethel, and their four children; her mother Elizabeth Mitchell; an adopted daughter Polly Anderson and later her husband, Maurice Payne. Several grandchildren remember the chauffeur, Alphonso, living in the rooms over the carriage house. At one time, 13 people lived with Mrs. Walker! To accommodate them, she added 12 rooms during a major home remodeling in 1922. After her death in 1934, the Walker family occupied the house until the 1970’s when it came to the National Park Service with most of the original furnishings. More...
During Mrs. Walker's occupancy, the house bustled with activity, filled with political discussions and children's laughter. Mrs. Walker's four grandchildren, Maggie Laura, Armstead, Mamie Evelyn, and Elizabeth remembered their grandmother's warm and loving personality. Each family had their own section of the house, but the children had access to all rooms except Polly's kitchen and the front parlors, which were off limits unless practicing their music or performing for guests.
Family meals were taken in the kitchen, with the formal dining room reserved for special occasions and holidays. Mrs. Walker enjoyed entertaining with luncheons and dinners, and she had an extensive collection of elegant china, crystal, and silver. After Mrs. Walker added the kitchen upstairs in1922, her grandchildren remembered joining her for breakfast.
Mrs. Walker was very proud of her home and her possessions. They reflected her status as a prominent black woman leader. She insisted on the best in her buildings, and the latest in technology and fashion. She added elegant mahogany furniture and woodwork, making it comfortable for entertaining her many friends. They included prominent national African American leaders such as W. E. B. DuBois, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Langston Hughes. After diabetes began to limit her mobility, Mrs. Walker adapted the house for her wheelchair. She added an upstairs kitchen and elevator, creating an office for working at home.