Walker, Maggie Lena

Walker, Maggie Lena (Draper)

(1867–1934) activist, businesswoman; born in Richmond, Va. Daughter of a former slave (and evidently a white Northern father), she assisted her mother in running a laundry out of her home. She graduated from a normal school (teachers' training) for African-Americans (1883) and then taught school until she married in 1886. Thereafter she dedicated herself to what became the Independent Order at St. Luke, an African-American fraternal and insurance cooperative; becoming its executive secretary-treasurer in 1899, she almost singlehandedly built it into a prosperous nationwide organization. In 1903 she founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, Va., thereby becoming the first female bank president in the U.S.A.; her bank gradually absorbed other African-American banks and became a major bank (1929). She was also active in several other organizations and programs dedicated to improving economic and social conditions for African-Americans. An accident in 1907 eventually left her unable to walk, but she continued her many activities with the aid of a wheelchair, a chauffeured automobile, and an elevator in her home.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.