Black Women’s History Month: Maggie Walker set the bar for women bankers

In 1903, Walker became the first Black woman to own a bank and created economic opportunities for the Black community and women

ALLAN MOSES R

The turn of the 1900s were pivotal years in the history of the African-American movement in the United States as a wave of civil rights campaigns, leaps in education and freedom was sweeping across the country.

In the midst of it all was Maggie Lena Walker. She made history by becoming the first woman to open a bank in the US. And to top the achievement, she was Black.

In 1903, Walker set up the St Luke Penny Savings Bank which transformed into a catalyst for economic development and advancement in the Black community.

Turning nickels into dollars

During the Independent Order of St Luke Annual Convention in 1901, she shared her vision: “First we need a savings bank. Let us put our moneys together; let us put our money out at usury among ourselves, and reap the benefit ourselves.” She added, “Let us have a bank that will take the nickels and turn them into dollars.”

Born on July 15, 1867, in Richmond, Virginia, Walker grew up during the Reconstruction era after the American Civil War in a nation struggling to repair the damage of slavery. At the tender age of 14, she joined the local chapter of the African American Fraternal Society that later became the Independent Order of St Luke (IOSL).

Maggie L Walker in Richmond, Virginia

She rose quickly among the ranks to assume the role of Grand Secretary-Treasurer and become a pioneering insurance executive, financier and civic icon at the turn of the 20th century.

During this time, there were restrictions in place to prevent Black people from buying property and owning businesses. Walker made it her life mission to provide economic opportunities for African-Americans and women.

Her dream came to life in 1903 in Richmond, Virginia, where she set up the St Luke Penny Savings Bank, one of the nation’s oldest Black-owned banking. By 1924, the IOSL membership grew to over 70,000 in 1,500 local chapters under her able guidance. The IOSL has assets worth over $400,000 and payments of over $1 million in death claims.

Even with her failing health, Walker successfully steered St Luke Penny Savings Bank through the Great Depression. She would eventually merge it with two other Black banks based in Richmond to form the Consolidated Bank and Trust (#20 on the BE BANKS list with $87.28 million in assets), the longest surviving Black bank in the country.

On Black Women’s History Month, it only seems fair to celebrate this great achievement in women’s development in the US and applaud Walker’s vision to break down barriers and provide economic opportunities and freedom to women and the nation’s emerging Black middle class.

Walker’s work and leadership paved the way for several others to follow. The women of today are changemakers driving the financial future across the world. They are decision enablers, leaders, pioneers and community builders.

Here are some takeaways from women banking leaders for you to implement in your own financial future:

Knowledge is wealth

Stay up-to-date with financial trends. Never stop learning and making the most of financial tools available now at your fingertips that can help customize your banking needs.

Keep retirement goals

A plan for the future must always ensure you put a little something away as retirement savings.

Help one another

The pandemic has left a mark on everyone around you. Reach out, help those struggling in your community. Make a difference like Walker did.

Join us as we raise a toast to the growing number of women bankers and executives who are the driving force in shaping the nation’s political economy and society.