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Lisa E. Rivo

civil rights and women's rights activist, community leader, and the first black woman to found and become president of a chartered bank in America, was born in Richmond, Virginia, to Elizabeth “Lizzie” Draper, a former slave, and Eccles Cuthbert, a white writer. Unwed at the time of Maggie's birth, Lizzie Draper worked as an assistant cook in the home of Elizabeth Van Lew, an ardent abolitionist and Union spy. In 1869 Lizzie married William Mitchell, a former slave, who worked as Van Lew's butler and later as the headwaiter at the posh St. Charles Hotel. A son, Johnny, was born shortly after the family's move to downtown Richmond. In 1878 William was robbed and murdered, leaving Lizzie and her two young children without savings insurance benefits or financial support circumstances that informed Maggie s adult work on behalf of the economic status of black women Lizzie ...


Gertrude Woodruff Marlowe

Maggie Lena Walker was always clear about what she was trying to accomplish as the executive head of the Independent Order of St. Luke, the organization she ran for thirty-five years and built to a membership of 100,000 in twenty-two states and the District of Columbia. She wanted to create businesses that would provide employment for black Americans, particularly black women, through cooperative effort and mutual support. As a vehicle for community education, the Order had, she said in 1913, “devoted itself to the teaching of the power of organization and the lesson of confidence.” This spirit animated her career of public service, explains much about her personal style, and suggests why St. Luke’s business enterprises, with one exception, enjoyed quiet, steady success when so many similar ones failed.

There is no official record of Walker’s birth. Most sources suggest that she was born in Richmond, Virginia in ...


For Maggie Lena Walker, who rose from humble beginnings to become the first black woman bank president, the future of the race was dependent upon the education and advancement of black women. In her words, she was “not born with a silver spoon in mouth: but, instead, with a clothes basket almost upon my head.” Former slaves, Walker's mother, Elizabeth (Draper), was a cook's helper and her father, William Mitchell, was the family butler in the Van Lew mansion in Richmond, Virginia. After her father was found floating in the James River, apparently murdered, Maggie Walker assumed multiple responsibilities as delivery person and babysitter while she kept up with her studies, church attendance, and public service.

Educated in segregated public schools in Richmond, Walker finished at the head of her class in 1883 After graduation she taught for three years at the Lancaster school while she ...