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Standing On The Shoulders Of Greatness

The first woman to own a bank was a former slave. How does one rise from a slave to a prominent bank owner? The story of Maggie Lena Walker is inspiring and still relevant. Like many African American women, she came from less than humble beginnings she was born to enslaved parents.

After the Civil war her mother worked as a laundress and her father was a butler. Her father died when she young and she helped her mother financially by working. She did not let that stop her from graduating from school and becoming a teacher. What we know about Maggie Lena is she was smart and determined. Maggie parlayed every opportunity into success.


When Walker was 14, she joined the Independent Order of St. Luke’s, an African American benevolent organization that helped the sick and elderly in Richmond.


In 1902 she began publishing the organization’s newspaper The St. Luke Herald. She encouraged African Americans in Richmond to harness their economic power by establishing their own institutions through the newspaper.

Walker had always focused her efforts on accounting and math. Her first business endeavor was a community insurance company for women. From there she continued her entrepreneurial pursuits. In 1903, she founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. Walker was the first woman of any race to charter a bank in the United States. The bank was a powerful representation of black self-help in the segregated South. The Penny Savings Bank not only attracted adults but Walker worked to appeal to children by passing out banks which encouraged them to save their money.


By 1924, the Penny Savings Bank had spread to other parts of Virginia and included more than 50,000 members. While other banks collapsed during the Great Depression St. Luke’s Penny Saving survived. The bank eventually consolidated with two other large bank and moved to downtown Richmond. It is still in operation today.


When we fast forward to today, we see women are still undeterred and resilient. Throughout American history black women have endured, defied, and rose like Maggie Lena to positions of power. Today women of color in America run banks and with the election Of Kamala Harris, governments.


Continue on in the spirit of Maggie Lena Walker, Click the donate button and become a founding member of the future Graceline Community Federal credit Union.

Copyright 2021 Graceline Community, Inc.

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