Mrs. Walker’s home and possessions reflected her prominence as a leader in the black community. She insisted on high quality furnishings and embraced modernity through the latest in technology and fashion.
After purchasing her Leigh Street home in 1904, Mrs. Walker spent a year remodeling. Before the family moved in, Walker converted the gas light fixtures to electric and replaced individual coal stoves with a central basement furnace and steam heat radiators. She added indoor plumbing, including a bidet in her private bathroom. Walker later commissioned Virginia’s first licensed African American architect, Charles T. Russell, to extend the front porch and add a second-story balcony overlooking “Quality Row.”Mrs. Walker had comfortable and attractive furnishings ranging from Victorian styles to contemporary Art Nouveau and Art Deco. She favored furniture with decorative claw feet depicting powerful animals such as lions, bears, and eagles. Walker filled the house with plants and fresh flowers, including red roses on the dining table. Mrs. Walker’s love of flowers is evident as she named the IOSL children’s divisions, or circles, after her favorite flowers - Violet Circle, Daisy Circle, and Rose Circle.More...
As the row house had few exterior windows, electric chandeliers and lamps provided illumination. Mrs. Walker was particularly fond of the bronze and glass electric lamp in the foyer. Mirrors and interior windows amplified the existing light making the house bright. Architect Russell added a skylight above the front staircase after Mrs. Walker fell down the poorly lit stairs.
Well-dressed and meticulously groomed at all times, Mrs. Walker was the essence of a successful professional. Her many portraits showcase a variety of contemporary hairstyles, stylish dresses, and fashionable hats. She accessorized with an array of jewelry including a favorite gold cross and strands of pearls.
By setting an example of grace and pride, Maggie Lena Walker inspired other African Americans, especially women, to achieve their potential amidst the daunting oppression in the Jim Crow South.