Maggie Lena Walker made history when she became the first woman to own bank in 1903. On top of that, she was a Black woman. The St. Luke Penny Savings Bank became a catalyst for economic advancement in the Black community.
“First we need a savings bank. Let us put our moneys together; let us put our money out at usury among ourselves, and reap the benefit ourselves,” said Walker during the Independent Order of St. Luke Annual Convention in 1901. “Let us have a bank that will take the nickels and turn them into dollars.”
The birth of a history maker
Walker was born on July 15, 1867 (some sources say 1864) in Richmond, Virginia. The American Civil War had ended and the country was stepping into the Reconstruction era.
During this period, millions of freed slaves were working against another threat: Black Codes. These laws were designed to limit the freedom of African Americans and maintain white supremacy. There were restrictions in place to prevent Black people from buying property and owning businesses. Essentially, the Black Codes represented another level of oppression where Blacks would not be able to partake in the essential pillars of wealth creation in the United States.
This is why Walker centered her life mission around economic opportunities for African-Americans and women. She once said, “I was not born with a silver spoon in [my] mouth, but instead, with a clothes basket almost upon my head.” Walker was determined to leave the world better than she found it, and there is no doubt that her work has been the launching pad for the advancement of many Black leaders.