Richmond, Virginia is home to many famous Americans, including one of the nation's great entrepreneurial spirits, Maggie Lena Walker. The Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site commemorates the life of a progressive and talented African American woman.
Maggie Lena Mitchell was born in Richmond, Virginia July 15, 1864. Her mother, Elizabeth Draper, was a former slave and assistant cook in the Church Hill mansion of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Civil War spy. Maggie Mitchell was educated in Richmond's public schools. After graduation, she taught grade school for three years. In 1902 Mrs. Walker established a newspaper, The St. Luke Herald, to promote closer communication between the Order of St. Luke and the public. In speeches, Mrs. Walker had reasoned, "Let us put our money together; let us use our money; let us put our money out at usury among ourselves, and reap the benefit ourselves." Two years later, in 1903 she founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. Mrs. Walker served as the bank's first president, which earned her the recognition of being the first African American woman to charter a bank in the United States. Later she agreed to serve as chairman of the board of directors when the bank merged with two other Richmond banks to become The Consolidated Bank and Trust Company. Until 2009, the bank thrived as the oldest continually African American-operated bank in the United States. In spite of humble beginnings in post-Civil War Richmond, Virginia, Maggie Lena Walker achieved national prominence as a businesswoman and community leader. Her business acumen, personality, and lifelong commitment to a beneficial burial society fueled her climb to success. As a leader, her successes and vision offered tangible improvements in the way of life for African Americans and women.