The forgotten history of financial pioneer Maggie Lena Walker

Maggie Lena Walker grew up in Richmond, Virginia in the late 1800’s. As both a woman and an African American, Maggie faced cultural limitations, but that didn’t stop her from going on to run a successful charitable organization, advocate for African American women’s rights and to be the first African American woman in the United States to found a bank.

Walker began her fiscal career through her work in the Independent Order of St. Luke, an organization devoted to caring for the sick and the elderly. Walker served in several positions in the organization, eventually assuming the top leadership position of Right Worthy Grand Secretary — a role she held until her death in 1934.

It was during her time with the Order of St. Luke that Walker began making a name for herself as a woman who was good with money. Under her direction, the once dying organization grew significantly and achieved financial solvency; but there was a big problem, banks run by whites were reluctant to accept deposits from black organizations like St. Luke’s.

To circumvent this, Walker established St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1903 with money collected from members of the Order of St. Luke, making her the first African American woman to found and become president of a bank. She served as chairman of the board of directors after the bank merged and changed names to Consolidated Bank & Trust Company. It went on to be the oldest bank continually operated by African Americans in the United States until 2009.