Turning nickels into dollars
In 1901 Maggie Lena Walker boldly presented her community with an idea for economic empowerment: "We need a savings bank, chartered, officered, and run by the men and women of this Order..... Let us have a bank that will take the nickels and turn them into dollars." In 1903 St. Luke Penny Savings Bank opened its doorsthe first chartered bank in the United States founded by a black woman. Today it thrives as the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, the oldest continually operated African American bank in the United States.
Maggie Mitchell was 14 when she joined the local Independent Order of St. Luke. Founded in 1867, this benevolent society aided African Americans in times of illness, old age, and death. In 1899 she was elected Right Worthy Grand Secretary of the national Independent Order of St. Luke and transformed the struggling order into a successful financial organization with her sound fiscal policies and genius for public relations.
All her life Maggie L. Walker spoke out for equal rights and fair employment, especially for women. She worked alongside Mary McLeod Bethune and W.E.B. Du Bois and served on the boards of local and national civic organizations, including the National Association of Colored Women and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Despite humble beginnings and personal tragedies, Mrs. Walker achieved national prominence and respect for her business and humanitarian accomplishments.
Maggie L. Walker
Maggie L. Walker was already famous as a dynamic leader in Richmond's black community when she and her family moved to 110½ East Leigh Street in 1905. She had devoted over 20 years to the Independent Order of St. Luke and had founded a newspaper and chartered a bank. Community service and professional success, however, were only part of Mrs. Walker's philosophy for what constituted a full life. She believed that success sprang not only from thriftiness and hard work, but from a commitment to her faith and her family.
Maggie Mitchell joined the First African Baptist church at age 11, and she was inspired by the members who prayed and worked together to uplift their community. Throughout her life she studied the Bible, participated in church activities, and quoted scripture in her writings and speeches.
Her stepfather died when she was nine years old, thrusting the family further into poverty. She worked hard helping her mother, who supported them by taking in laundry. The poverty and daily struggle taught her self-sufficiency and how to deal with tragedy and hardship.
Maggie attended public school in a racially segregated system. The inequity was most apparent during her 1883 graduation from the Colored Normal School, when the graduation facilities offered to blacks were inferior to those used by whites. Maggie's class staged a boycott, possibly the first school strike of the civil rights movement. After graduation Maggie taught elementary school for three years. In 1886 she married Armstead Walker Jr. and retired from teaching as required by Virginia law. The change allowed her to direct her energies toward strengthening the Independent Order of St. Luke and caring for her growing family. In time. Walker's boundless devotion to her work and family rewarded them with financial and social success.
Tragedy struck in 1915 when Armstead was accidently killed, leaving Mrs. Walker to manage a large household. Her investments and hard work kept the family together. The family expanded again when her sons Russell and Melvin married and brought their wives to live at home, where four grandchildren were born. As the family grew, the house grew toofinally to a 28-room complex that all but covered the 33- by 139-foot lot. In 1928 paralysis confined Mrs. Walker to a wheelchair. Undaunted, she added an elevator to the house and altered her car and desks to accommodate the wheelchair.
Maggie Lena Walker died at home on December 15, 1934. Nationally, she was acclaimed as a champion for oppressed blacks and women.
In Richmond she was mourned as a leader who dedicated her life to family and uplifting her community.
110½ Leigh Street
1883 The two-story Victorian house with Italianate detailing began with seven rooms.
1890s Robert Jones, a black physician, built rooms and the west wing for a waiting and examination area.
1904-22 Walker converted gas lights to electric, added central heating, a cellar, 12 rooms, and the two-story porch.
Planning Your Visit
Guided House Tours
Limited vehicle and bus parking is available on Second Street.
Visiting Historic Jackson Ward
You can enjoy a walking or driving tour of Jackson Ward that highlights important sites, including the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, 110½ E. Leigh St.; Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, 00 Clay Street; and the Bojangles monument at the intersection of Chamberlayne Parkway, Leigh, and Adams.
Source: NPS Brochure (2006)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
An Orientation: Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site (Celia Jackson Suggs, 1995)
Finding Aid: Maggie Lena Walker Family Papers, 1854-1970 (bulk dates 1900-1935) (Jennifer H. Quinn, February 1999; Ethan Bullard and Margaret Welch, revised February 2016)
Housekeeping Plan, Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site (Brigid Sullivan, January 2010)
Maggie L. Walker Oral History Project: Volume I (Diann L. Jacox, October 1986)
Maggie L. Walker Oral History Project: Volume II (Diann L. Jacox, October 1986)
National Register of Historic Places Nomination Forms
Maggie L. Walker House (Marcia M. Greenlee, December 1974)
St. Luke Building (Bryan Clark Green, July 2018)
Ransom for Many: A Life of Maggie Lena Walker (Gertrude Woodruff Marlowe, 1996)
State of the Park Report, Maggie Walker National Historic Site, Virginia State of the Park Series No. 20 (February 2015)
The Jackson Ward Historic District (Robert P. Winthrop, 1978)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 02-Dec-2021