Dinner Discussions at Maggie Walker’s House
Table of Contents
Museum Collections, Similar Items and other Materials Used
National Educational Standards
Student Learning Objectives
Background and Historical Context
Teacher Tips
Lesson Implementation Procedures
Evaluation/Assessment for Measurable Results
Extension and Enrichment Activities
Site Visit
Charts, Figures and other Teacher Materials Chart/Handouts

A. Title: Dinner Discussions at Maggie Walker’s House
  • Developers: Anne M. Evans, Teacher Ranger Teacher, Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site and Coordinator of Social Studies, Charlottesville City Schools, Charlottesville, VA
  • Grade Level: Level 4-8, could be adapted for 9-12
  • Number of Sessions in the Lesson Unit Plan:

    Number of Sessions in the Lesson Unit Plan:  3
    Session 1: How to analyze an object activity
    Session 2:  Examine Maggie L. Walker and her contemporaries’ contributions and views, including discussions about the early Civil Rights Movement and Great Depression eras.  This session includes an exploration of social customs at a dinner party, foods and and clothing of the period.

    Session 3:  Role-play a dinner party at Maggie L. Walker’s home based on historical research including period dress, recipes and current events of the era

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B. Overview of this Collection-Based Lesson Unit Plan
  • Park Name: Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site
  • Description: This lesson focuses on Maggie L. Walker’s (1864-1934), civil rights activist and trailblazing entrepreneur during the early years of the movement towards civil rights.  The beloved African American community leader devoted her life to defeating racism, sexism, and economic oppression.  She chartered a bank, a newspaper, and a store 17 years before American women had the right to vote, and fostered black entrepreneurialism when Jim Crow laws threatened African American progress.

    Students will research influential members of the African American community and role-play a dinner party at Walker’s home through the study of historic objects, photographs and documents.  It focuses on the connection between entrepreneurship and the preservation of African American culture through business, music and cuisine.

  • Essential Question:
    • What role did Maggie L. Walker play in the women's and civil rights in the early 20th century?
    • What was life like in the early 20th century, and how is your life different in the new millennium?

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C. Museum Collections, Similar Items and other Materials Used in this Lesson Unit Plan
MUSEUM OBJECT [photos of objects in the Carl Sandburg Home NHS museum collections] SIMILAR OBJECTS [local items similar to museum objects] & OTHER MATERIALS Length of time
Lesson One:
Calling Card Fruit Peeler
Fruit Peeler
Nuptials News Release  
Similar Items:
  • Business card
  • Graduation calling card
  • Card carrying case
  • Business card holder
  • Fruit stripper
  • Modern fruit peeler
  • News release from local newspaper
  • Society page announcement

Other Materials for Lesson:


90 minutes
Lesson Two:
Print, 101 Prominent
Joe Louis
The St. Luke Herald Newspaper  
Similar Items:
  • Posters and pictures of famous African Americans of the 1930s and 40s, with biographical information, available at bookstores, teacher resource centers, or websites

Other Materials for Lesson
  • Poster board or large sheets of paper
  • Magazines with photos of famous African Americans of today
  • Markers
  • Scissors
  • Glue
90 minutes

Lesson Three:

Dinner Setting
Serving Bowl
Flatware Tray Peytonia Cook Book
Dress Petticoat
Black Lacy Blouse  
Similar Items:
  • Dinnerware, serving pieces, flatware
  • Table linens, circa 1930s-40s, table and chairs

Other Materials for Lesson

90 minutes

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D. National Educational Standards
Social Studies ( National Council for the Social Studies, 1994.) NSS-USH.5-12.8 ERA 8: THE GREAT DEPRESSION AND WORLD WAR II (1929-1945)
  • Understands the causes of the Great Depression and how it affected American society

  • Understands the economic boom and social transformation of postwar United States
  • Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and the extension of civil liberties

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E. Student Learning Objectives
  • Identify some of the key figures in the struggle against Jim Crow segregation.
  • Understand how individual actions can affect the course of history and how personal actions are constrained by larger social or historical conditions.
  • Understand individual and institutional influences on the civil rights movement.
  • Understand how ideas are exchanged and social relationships are cultivated when people share food and dine together.

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F. Background and Historical Context

In spite of humble beginnings in post-Civil War Richmond, Virginia, Maggie Lena Walker (1864-1934) 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. She was one of the first women, and the first African American woman, in the United States to found a bank. As a leader, her successes and vision offered tangible improvements in the way of life for African Americans and women.

When Maggie Mitchell was a teenager, she joined the local council of the Independent Order of St. Luke. This fraternal burial society, established in 1867 in Baltimore, Maryland, administered to the sick and aged, promoted humanitarian causes and encouraged individual self-help and integrity. Walker served in numerous capacities of increasing responsibility for the Order, from that of a delegate to the biannual convention to the top leadership position of Right Worthy Grand Secretary in 1899, a position she held until her death. Under her leadership the Order's membership and numbers of councils were significantly increased throughout the country and its finances achieved solvency. Through sound fiscal policies, a genius for public relations and enormous energy, she took a dying organization, gave it life and helped it thrive.

In 1902, Mrs. Walker established a newspaper, The St. Luke Herald, to promote closer communication between the Order 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." In 1903, she founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. Mrs. Walker was the bank's first president and earned the recognition of being the first African American woman to charter a bank in the United States. Later she agreed to serve as chair of the board of directors when the bank merged with two other Richmond banks to become The Consolidated Bank and Trust Company. Until its purchase in 2005 by Adams National Bank, Consolidated was the oldest continually operated African American bank in the U.S. Today, Premier Bank operates from Consolidated’s former headquarters at First and Marshall Streets, where it continues to provide financial services to Mrs. Walker’s Jackson Ward community.

In addition to her work for the Independent Order of St. Luke, Maggie Walker was active in civic groups. As an advocate of African American women's rights, she served on the board of trustees for several women's groups. Among them were the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the Virginia Industrial School for Girls. To assist race relations she helped to organize and served locally as vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and was a member of the national NAACP board. She also served as a member of the Virginia Interracial Commission.

Family Life
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. Later Maggie, her mother and her stepfather, William Mitchell, moved to their own home in an alley between Broad and Marshall Streets where Maggie and her brother Johnnie were raised. After the untimely death of William Mitchell, Maggie's mother supported the family by working as a laundress and young Maggie helped by delivering the clean clothes.

Maggie Mitchell was educated in Richmond's public schools. After graduation, she taught grade school for three years. Her teaching career ended in 1886 when she married Armstead Walker Jr. She then directed her energies toward caring for her family and strengthening the Independent Order of St. Luke. Life was full and prosperous for the Walkers and their sons, Russell and Melvin.

Tragedy struck in 1915 when her husband was accidentally killed, leaving Mrs. Walker to manage a large household. Her work and investments kept the family comfortably situated. When her sons married, they brought their wives to 110-1/2 East Leigh Street. A major addition to the house in 1922 enabled Mrs. Walker to provide a home for her sons and their families, her mother, and the household staff.

Mrs. Walker's health gradually declined, and by 1928, she was using a wheelchair. Despite her physical limitations she remained actively committed to her life's work, including chairing the bank and leading the Independent Order of St. Luke, until her death on December 15, 1934.

The House
The residence at 110-1/2 East Leigh Street was built in 1883. The address was a prime location in the heart of Jackson Ward, the center of Richmond's African American business and social life at the turn of the century. Mrs. Walker purchased the house in 1904 and soon began making changes. Central heating and electricity were added, and with the addition of several bedrooms and enclosed porches, the home increased over the years from 9 to 28 rooms. In 1928 an elevator was added in the rear of the house to provide Mrs. Walker access to the second floor.  The Walker family owned the home until 1979, when it became a National Park Service site.

The furnishings throughout the home are original family pieces. They are valuable in understanding the 1904-1934 period of her occupancy. Together the house and the furnishings help us to learn more about Maggie Walker and the world in which she lived. Her community of Jackson Ward, a National Historic Landmark District, continues to exemplify the success of African American entrepreneurship.

Source: http://www.nps.gov/mawa/historyculture/index.htm

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G. Vocabulary

Great Depression: –noun, economic crisis and period of low business activity in the U.S. and other countries, beginning with the stock-market crash in October, 1929 through the 1930s.
Economic: –adjective, pertaining to the production, distribution, and use of income, wealth, and commodities.
Consolidate: –verb to bring together (separate parts) into a single or unified whole; unite; combine:
Segregation: -noun, act or practice of separating or setting apart from others or from the main body or group; act of isolating.
Jim Crow: –noun, a practice or policy of segregating or discriminating against blacks, as in public places, public vehicles, or employment.
Philanthropy: –noun, unselfish or charitable concern for human welfare and advancement, usually manifested by donations of money, property, or work to needy persons, by endowment of institutions of learning and hospitals, and by generosity to other socially useful purposes.
Entrepreneur: –noun, a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, esp. a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.
Suffrage: –noun, the right to vote, esp. in a political election.
Discrimination: –noun, treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.
Integration: -noun, the act of uniting or combining to give equal opportunity and consideration to a group (a racial, religious, or ethnic group or a member of such a group).
Civil Rights: –plural noun (often initial capital letters), rights to personal liberty established by the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and certain Congressional acts, esp. as applied to an individual or a minority group.

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H. Teacher Tips
  • Prior to this lesson provide students background information on the Great Depression and early movements for civil rights.
  • Acquire clothing from the 1930s - 60s and  period appropriate dinnerware.  Consult with home economics teachers and librarians on appropriate dining etiquette and table settings.
  • Prepare individual student copies of the NPS “How to Read an Object” chart. Evaluate selected websites.

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I. Lesson Implementation Procedures

Lesson One: How to Read an Object

Download images of fruit peeler, calling card, and nuptials news release from Section C, Lesson 1.  Make images available to students (computer lab, interactive whiteboard or TV /LCD projector screen.)  Students analyze images and discuss.


Distribute similar items to students.  Working in pairs, students compare and contrast the historic objects with the contemporary ones and complete “How to Read a Museum Object.”  Students share their responses with the class.


Lesson Two:  Living in the Time of Maggie L. Walker


Download images of museum objects in the park collections, and obtain similar items and materials listed in Section C, Lesson Two.


Maggie L. Walker knew many great African American figures, including W.E.B DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Mary McLeod Bethune, Joe Louis, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, and others. Explain to the students that Maggie L. Walker kept many pictures, posters and photographs of her African American contemporaries on the wall of her library. Look at the 101 Prominent Colored People poster and have the students try to identify how many figures they recognize.

Assign 2-3 students to a specific historic figure or have groups select an historic figure to research, including Maggie Walker.  Students will use Library / Media center resources to research ONE of Maggie Walker’s business or social contemporaries. Students work cooperatively to answer questions below. The Maggie group answers questions in the first person. 

For what reason(s) is this person best remembered in U.S. history?

  • Why might Maggie Walker be interested in fostering a relationship with this person?
  • During what period in American history is this person most likely to have known Mrs. Walker?
  • What style of clothing did this person wear during the time they were associated with Maggie L. Walker?
  • What topics would have been considered “current events” during this period?  What position would this person take on these topics? What would their views be today on the same topics?

Lesson Two Extension: Students will work in designated groups to design a “Famous African Americans of Today” poster. Students may use magazines or download pictures from websites to obtain photos. Using scissors and glue, students will design and produce a patchwork of pictures on a poster board or large pieces of paper to create a modern-day “Famous African Americans” poster.

Lesson Three:  Dinner at Miss Maggie’s

Divide students into several small groups.  Each group will include one student portraying Maggie L. Walker and the remaining 4-5 others research and prepare dialogue on the other  4-5 different historic figures per group.


Each group of students will take turns reenacting a portion of the dinner party.  The student portraying Maggie L. Walker will act as host, posing 3-4 questions to each “guest.” Students respond in character to each question.  Each group should be given 15-20 minutes to role play before assembling the next group.  Role play continues until all groups have had an opportunity to “join Miss Maggie at the table.”

At the conclusion of the dinner party, students write a news article about the dinner party for the Richmond or local newspaper’s society page or a reflective journal based on the role-playing experience. Pre- and post-writing strategies include students writing invitations to the party and a thank you note afterwards in “their” historic figure’s voice.

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J. Evaluation/Assessment for Measurable Results
  • Students are evaluated on participation level, see section N, Rubric.
  • Students evaluate classmates' role play and participation in dinner party conversations of "their" historic figures. For example, if Group 1 is "at the table," the other Maggie L. Walkers, Joe Louises, Billie Hollidays and W.E.B DuBoises evaluate the person currently playing that role at the table.
  • Students assess their like character actors on period dress, appropriate responses to questions based on evidence collected in Lesson 2, and historic accuracy of each response.
  • Teachers evaluate individual students’ ability to address the questions asked in the activities when they role play their historic figure.

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K. Extension and Enrichment Activities
Students research foodways and recipes of the period.  Discuss with students how the invention of electricity and refrigeration changed the way Americans shopped, cooked and stored food in the early to mid-1900s vs. the new millennium, especially in the South. Each prepares an authentic dish similar to one found in a 1930s-40s Southern cookbook such as Mrs. Walker’s cookbook (See Section C, Lesson Two).  Re-enact the dinner, with appropriate dinnerware/etiquette.

Prepare a dish and serve at school with the assistance of a home economics teacher or PTA /parent volunteer or do a potluck meal.  See Section K for more resources on cooking during the Great Depression.

Art:  Have students design their own china and silver patterns or table linens.

Language Arts: Students write a news article for the Richmond newspaper’s society page about the dinner party hosted by Mrs. Walker or a reflective journal based on the role playing experience. Students could also write invitations to the party, or a thank you note afterwards from the point of view of their character to practice letter writing skills. 

History: Students research family traditions through oral histories taken when interviewing relatives about the origin of certain holiday meals or family recipes.

Math: Use the recipes from Maggie Walker’s cookbook to introduce or review the concept of converting fractions or to research and calculate the cost of ingredients for the meal in the 1930s vs. the new millennium.

Math and science: Collaborate on a lesson involving the concept of “food miles,” how shopping for local produce and ingredients leaves less of a carbon footprint on the environment. 

Videotape the “Dinner Party” to share with other classes, or to use to critique each class and their performance.  Students in accelerated classes could enrich this lesson by role-playing a second dinner party using modern political figures such as Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Condoleeza Rice or George W. Bush.

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L. Resources
Websites Books
  • Marlowe, Gertrude Woodruff. A Right Worthy Grand Mission: Maggie Lena Walker and the Quest for Black Economic Empowerment. Howard University Press, 2003.
  • Ransom, Candice F.  Maggie L. Walker: Pioneering Banker and Community Leader.

    Twenty-First Century Books (CT) (November 2008).

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M. Site Visit

Visit the Maggie L. Walker home and historic Jackson Ward district in Richmond, VA.
Tour reservation information: http://www.nps.gov/mawa/

Take a virtual museum tour at: http://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/Maggie_Walker/index.html

Unable to visit Maggie L. Walker National Historic site?  Work with local historical societies or architects to identify neighborhoods close to your school which might provide example of homes and social life during the 1930s-40s. 

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N. Charts, Figures and other Teacher Materials Chart/Handouts
Chart/Handouts Media: