Maggie L. Walker: Richmond History Maker

Maggie L. Walker – a mother, a leader, a civil rights activist, an entrepreneur, a Richmonder.

By Valentine Museum Staff
Pen and ink drawing of Maggie L. Walker from the chest up. She is looking to the side and has one hand under her chin.
Maggie L. Walker, V.89.252.81, The Valentine.

Maggie Lena Walker (1864-1934) was born enslaved in the Church Hill neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia.  Throughout her life, she was devoted to abolishing racism, sexism, and economic oppression.  She raised her two sons, Russell and Melvin, in Jackson Ward with her husband.

After the Civil War ended, 4 million enslaved African-Americans were emancipated and were finally able to experience the liberties they long deserved; however, Jim Crow policies stunted the progress that African-Americans were making.  Walker pushed for racial and gender equality, education reform, job creation, and business ownership for African-Americans throughout the country.  She joined the Independent Order of St. Luke (IOSL), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Federation of Women’s Clubs, National Association of Colored Women, and the National Association of Wage Earners.  Walker’s work with these groups and organizations furthered her power to promote her social activism.

Handbill to raise money for St. Luke's. Maggie L. Walker is pictured at the top.
St. Luke Fundraising Handbill, V.89.252.79, The Valentine.

When Maggie Walker joined the local Richmond branch of the IOSL she helped eradicate its financial problems, which resulted in her position as the Right Worthy Grand Secretary Treasurer of the IOSL in 1899.  Since obtaining this position, Walker focused on using economic empowerment to defy Jim Crow Laws.  She did this by establishing a bank, newspaper, and store.  Walker was the first African-American woman to found a bank and serve as its president.  Maggie Walker’s leadership, entrepreneurship, and magnanimous personality significantly helped African-Americans across the country gain equality and empowerment.

Staff photo in front of the St. Luke's General Office. Two men are in front with three rows of women with Maggie L. Walker in the middle.
Staff of General Office of the R. W. G. Council Order of St. Luke, 1915, V.89.252.76, The Valentine.

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Authors Valentine Museum Staff
Work Title Maggie L. Walker: Richmond History Maker
Published October 11, 2023
Updated May 24, 2024
Copyright © 2024 The Valentine Museum