The First Woman To Start A Bank Finally Gets Recognition

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Written by Ann Brown

If you have never heard of Maggie L. Walker, you are not alone. She is the first woman to start a bank. And she was African American. Up until now, she has gone mainly unrecognized in history.

Now, 153 years after her birth, this daughter of a former slave was honored with a statue in Richmond, Virginia, which ironically was the former capital city of the confederacy. The statue was crafted by Antonio Mendez. It is 10 feet tall and made of bronze. Walker is depicted holding a checkbook in one hand and with her eye-glasses resting on her blouse.

“She was a community person. She wasn’t just about her immediate family,” said Walker Martin, great-great-daughter of Walker, in a speech at the statue unveiling,the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

“She is in her rightful place in the heart of this city,” said Liza Mickens, another of Maggie Walker’s great-great-granddaughters, addressing the crowd that gathered for the reveal.

Walker’s mother was a former slave. Her father was an Irish American who was never part of her life. From the start, Walker had an entrepreneurial bent. She founded a newspaper called “The St. Luke Herald,” and was a humanitarian and a teacher. Eventually, she became the first woman of any race in America to charter a bank.

St. Luke’s Penny Savings bank was founded by Walker in the early 1900s. “The bank handed out loans to local Black business owners but didn’t use the interest they generated from the loans to line their pockets. Instead, Walker would use the money to reinvest back in her community to build it up,” All That TV reported.

Walker is reported to have said in 1901: “Let us put our moneys together. Let us use our moneys; let us put our money out at usury among ourselves, and reap the benefit ourselves. Let us have a bank that will take the nickels and turn them into dollars.”

After a while, the Penny Savings Bank absorbed all other Black-owned banks in Richmond and in 1929 was renamed Consolidated Bank and Trust Company. Walker was named chairwoman of the board of this new and larger bank.

Walker also opened a department store called St. Luke’s Emporium in 1905, targeted at Black shoppers who could not freely shop in white establishments. Unfortunately, the emporium failed and closed in 1911.

Walker became very involved in her community, working for equal rights, women’s suffrage, and the 19th Amendment, which prohibits states and the federal government from denying U.S. citizens the right to vote on the basis of sex, according to America Comes Alive. Walker went on to create the Richmond Council of Colored Women, whose goal was to raise money for education and health programs. And she co-founded the Richmond branch of the NAACP.