The first woman to charter a bank in the United States was an African-American woman!

An African-American woman whose mother was a former slave and whose father is said to have been an Irish immigrant.

Maggie Lena Walker, who began working as a child, helping her mother wash clothes in an alleyway in Richmond, Virginia; was the first woman, black or white, to launch a financial institution for African-Americans.  She overcame not only the oppression of the racist Jim Crow Era, but even defeated the prevalent sexism of the day that purposefully excluded women as viable economic forces.

This African-American visionary was often quoted as saying, , “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.”

She practiced what she preached by only employing African-Americans within a variety of roles from butler to architect throughout her life.  Walker note only owned a bank, but she established a newspaper, The St. Luke Herald, in 1902, and served as one of the national leaders for the St. Luke’s fraternal burial society, which supported the sick and elderly within the African-American community before social security or welfare programs were established.

It was that fortitude that inspired Walker to open the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, where she served as the institution’s first president.  During the great depression, when multitudes of  financially-based businesses were failing, Maggie Walker initiated a brilliant business strategy by uniting area banks into one, forming Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, which not only survived the Great Depression in one of the most oppressive cities in the South, but this bank flourished because of the healthy and disciplined financial habits of people of color within the city of Richmond, specifically historic Jackson Ward, which was nicknamed the “Harlem of the South.”

Maggie Walker’s life was one of enormous obstacles and tragedies in addition to extraordinary successes and victories.  Her father had been robbed and murdered.  Her son murdered her husband accidentally, when he mistook him for a burglar.  The family was subjected to a horrific murder trial following the incident, for which he was later acquitted.  Ms. Walker suffered from diabetes so severely that she was paralyzed by the illness, then confined to a wheelchair during the last twenty years of her life.  Both of her sons, her two only children, died in their early thirties.

Maggie Lena Walker’s life as a visionary is an inspiration to every one, regardless of race, sex, economic status, or religion.  She not only invested in her community, but also empowered others to do the same by nurturing them emotionally, spiritually, academically, socially, and economically.

Maggie Lena Walker’s vision was to be the catalyst for the prosperity of an entire community of people that had previously been disenfranchised. Her business, social reform, and community action plans are fully relevant to this day.

While Ms. Walker died on December 15, 1934, the magnitude and collective nature of her vision, it not only continues to be realized to this day, but her vision continues to serve as a powerful source of inspiration as well.

So, the next time that you make an excuse as to why you cannot achieve economic empowerment, remind yourself of Maggie Walker’s legacy and remember to share it with our children!

Read more about the extraordinary life of Maggie Walker and arrange a visit to her historical home located in historic the Jackson Ward District of Richmond, Virginia at:

“Managing Money Is A Matter of The Heart…..”