Skip to Main Content

This Month in Business History

Maggie L. Walker, First Black Woman to Charter a Bank

Bagby, photographer. Maggie Walker. c. 1905-1910. Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site. National Park Service.

In November 1903, Maggie L. Walker (1864-1934) chartered the Saint Luke Penny Bank in Richmond, VA. She was the first African American woman to establish a bank in the United States. Walker served as president of the bank for nearly thirty years, increasing its assets tenfold, and steering it through economic turmoil. She oversaw its merger with two other banks into Consolidated Bank and Trust Company during the Great Depression.1 Walker's role as the first female and African American bank president was remarkable given the norms and barriers of her time. In the early 20th century, banking and finance were male-dominated fields with few opportunities for women, especially women of color, to hold leadership positions during segregation. The bank built local economic empowerment by employing primarily African American women to run its operations, and it gave a large number of mortgage loans to the Black community, facilitating an increase in home ownership.

The foundation of Walker's career began in 1881 when she joined the Independent Order of Saint Luke, an African American fraternal society while she was still in school.2 The Order was established as a women' s mutual insurance society with a mission to take care of the sick and to aid in burying the dead. Mutual burial societies were a precursor to insurance companies. The Order needed a bank, but had few options given segregation. It also had a mission of investing in its community at a time when its members faced significant barriers to banking. The Order and the Bank were able to invest in their own community by providing its members with financial literacy education, training and employment, as well as opportunities to bank.

Walker was trained, and initially worked, as a teacher but later emerged as an entrepreneur and businesswoman. In 1902 she founded the St. Luke Herald weekly newspaper to spread the good news of the Order and attract new members.3 Between 1904 and 1906, the newspaper was a platform for civil rights advocacy and supported a boycott of the segregated Richmond streetcar system.4 In 1905, she founded the St. Luke Emporium, a department store run by Black employees for the Black community.5

Walker was a charismatic orator who was involved in organizing and leading groups—she was the co-founder of the Richmond Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and she organized the first Black girl scout troop in the South.6 In her work with these nonprofit and for-profit organizations Walker worked towards building Black economic power and a middle class as well as providing a means for creating generational wealth.

Print Resources

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.

Library of Congress Digital Resources

The following resource created and digitized by the Library of Congress can be used to find out more about the man as well as the events of the day.

Internet Resources

The links below are for content on the Library of Congress website or more generally on the internet.

Search the Library's Catalog

Additional works on this topic in the Library of Congress may be identified by searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog under appropriate Library of Congress subject headings. Choose the topics you wish to search from the following list of subject headings to link directly to the Catalog and automatically execute a search for the subject selected. Please be aware that during periods of heavy use you may encounter delays in accessing the catalog. For assistance in locating other subject headings that may relate to this subject, please consult a reference librarian.