A snapshot biography of Maggie Lena Walker

Vintage sepia-toned photograph of Maggie Lena Walker, an African American woman, standing proudly. She is dressed in an elegant white dress with ruffled details, accessorized with a brooch. Her hair is styled in an updo, typical of the early 20th century. She leans slightly on a carved wooden chair, giving a sense of poise and confidence.
Maggie Lena Walker

Maggie Lena Walker, the daughter of a former slave and cook, was the first woman to charter a bank in the United States in 1902. The bank offered loans and mortgages to black residents of Richmond, Virginia who were otherwise denied service by white-owned banks.

A year later she started a department store allowing black customers to shop with dignity: To enter through the main doors instead of a side entrance, to try on clothing before buying, and to eat at lunch counters. Her store displayed clothing on brown-skinned mannequins and hired exclusively black women to work as clerks.

Later the same year, Walker utilized her newspaper to urge Richmond residents to boycott the city’s segregated streetcar system. The boycott was so effective the company operating the street cars declared bankruptcy two months later.


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“A snapshot biography of Maggie Lena Walker” sources: photograph taken circa 1913 – Wikimedia Commons / Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, MAWA 62