Black History Month Feb. 16: Maggie Lena Walker – First woman to be a bank president

Maggie Lena Walker was the first woman in America — of any color — to charter and serve as president of a bank. Maggie was born on July 15, 1864, in Richmond, Virginia. She attended school and graduated in 1883, having been trained as a teacher. She married a brick contractor in 1886 and left her teaching job, at which point she became more active within the Independent Order of St. Luke, an an organization dedicated to the social and financial advancement of African Americans. In 1899, Maggie Walker became grand secretary of the organization—a position that she would hold for the rest of her life. During her tenure, she founded the organization’s newspaper, and opened a highly successful bank and a department store.

The Saint Luke Penny Savings Bank opened in Richmond in November 1903, and took in more than $9,000 in deposits on its first day. And while white-owned banks had often ignored or mistreated African Americans, Walker’s bank was happy to serve them — by 1920, it had facilitated the purchase of more than 600 homes. With the help of mergers that Walker coordinated, the bank survived the Great Depression as Consolidated Bank and Trust. It remained America’s oldest continuously African-American-operated bank until it was acquired by Premier Bank in 2009.