IPR is featuring some of the many Black American pioneers and modern-day heroes to celebrate Black History Month.
Maggie Lena Walker was born to enslaved parents on July 15, 1864, in Richmond, Virginia. After the Civil War, her mother worked as a laundress and her father as a butler in a popular Richmond hotel. After Walker graduated from a local school in Richmond, she became a teacher.
Walker joined the Independent Order of St. Luke’s, an African American benevolent organization that helped the sick and elderly in Richmond. She began publishing the organization’s newspaper, The St. Luke Herald, in 1902. Through the newspaper, she encouraged African Americans in Richmond to harness their economic power by establishing their own institutions.
In 1903, Walker founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. She was the first woman of any race to charter a bank in the United States. She also held leadership positions in other civic organizations, including the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the Richmond chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). St. Luke’s Penny Savings Bank survived the Great Depression and eventually consolidated with two other large banks. The bank is still in operation today. Walker died on Dec. 15, 1934.