Women Who Rocked the Finance World — Maggie L Walker

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The finance world has been largely male-dominated to date. That’s no secret! But did you know that many women have also made their mark on the industry?

Yes! There have been feisty females throughout the ages who have pushed for change. And as Contentworks is a financial services marketing agency spearheaded by female CEOS with a passion for equality, we’ve been delving deeper into the lives of these game-changers.

In this article we’ll be looking at black rights pioneer and financial revolutionary Maggie L Walker.

Humble Beginnings

Maggie L Walker experienced humble beginnings being the daughter of Elizabeth Draper, a former slave and cook. Her biological father Eccles Cuthbert was not long on the scene and shortly after Maggie’s birth her mother married William Mitchell who was a butler by profession.

When William was found drowned in a river in 1876, Maggie was forced to help her mum support the family by running a laundry business. Her primary role was to deliver clean clothes to customers.

A Natural Leader

Maggie attended two schools both dedicated to educating African Americans. But she wanted to push herself outside of class. So, at just 14 years old, Maggie joined the local council of the Independent Order of St. Luke — an organisation designed to improve the advancement of black people in both financial and social standing. It encouraged individual self-help and integrity.

She remained dedicated to this cause for years and in 1895 became Grand Deputy Matron. One of her biggest achievements during this time was establishing a youth arm of the Order helping to support young African American and promote social consciousness. She then worked her way up through the ranks to become the Grand Secretary which gave her much more say and control.

First Women to Own A Bank in the US

The Order of St. Luke was in great trouble and on the verge of bankruptcy, but Walker was determined to turn all this around. In 1902 she founded the St. Luke Herald to educate the masses. A year after, she then opened the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. This made history, setting Walker apart as being the first woman to own a bank in the US.

Upon promoting the idea at an annual convention for the Order of St. Luke, Maggie said: “First we need a savings bank. Let us put our moneys together; let us use our monies; 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.”

At this time, banks represented the pinnacle of financial achievement for many people and to Walker, owning one would combat issues of racial segregation while encouraging financial independence. Walker’s bank allowed African Americans to conduct business away from the judgement and prejudice often found within white-owned establishments. This move was therefore vital for black progress.

The bank became incredibly successful and by 1924, under Maggie’s watchful eye, it had over 50,000 members in 1,500 local chapters. The bank was also kept alive during the Great Depression due to a smart decision to merge it with two other banks in 1929.

Her achievements didn’t end with her banking legacy. Indeed, she continued to help African Americans make progress within society. In 1905, Maggie opened the St. Luke Emporium, a department store which not only gave African American women the chance to work, but also provided the black community access to cheaper goods.

Tragic Private Life

Despite her head-strong appearance and unshakable determination, Maggie had to overcome many struggles in her life. Firstly, despite pursuing a profession as a teacher, she was forced to give up upon getting married. Married women at that time were not allowed to work in the classroom. Secondly, she experienced the death of her second son in infancy. Her first born, Russell, also sparked a great family tragedy by accidently shooting his father believing him to be an intruder. Russell was tried for murder but found innocent.

Maggie also suffered from diabetes and was eventually confined to a wheelchair. She died from diabetes related complications in 1934 at the age of 70, leaving behind a sensational legacy. Her Richmond home in the Jackson Ward neighborhood known as the ‘Harlem of the South’ was purchased by the National Parks Service and is now a National Historic Site. Maggie, you’re a legend and we salute you.

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