first woman

The First Woman Bank Founder Was Black. She Just Got Her Own Monument

Maggie Lena Walker was the first woman of any race to start a bank. St. Luke’s Penny Savings, gave loans to Black business owners and residents at fair rates, then recycled the interest earned to keep building the community.

In 1901  Maggie is quoted as saying, “First we need a savings bank. Let us put our moneys together; let us use our moneys; 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.”

Interior of St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, c. 1917
Maggie L Walker National Historic Site

Now, a 10-foot bronze statue of a 45-year-old Walker standing tall is surrounded by inscriptions tracing the life of the woman who early on helped her mother, a former slave, by delivering clothes as a laundress.

Maggie L. Walker and the officers of the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, c. 1917
Maggie L Walker National Historic Site

She then became a newspaper publisher, teacher, bank founder, businesswoman, civil rights leader, entrepreneur and mother.

“She is in her rightful place in the heart of this city,” Liza Mickens, another of Maggie Walker’s great-great-granddaughters.

She is facing Broad Street, Mickens said, where African-American people weren’t always welcome. She is also at the gateway to Jackson Ward, a historic African-American community that she helped inspire.

During its long history, the bank founded by Maggie Walker benefited the Black community in Richmond. By 1920, it had issued more than 600 mortgages to black families, allowing many to realize the dream of home ownership.

It also provided employment for Black people who’s only other options were menial or labor intensive jobs.

The statue is located in downtown Richmond at Broad and Adams streets, which is a gateway to the Jackson Ward neighborhood where many of her life accomplishments occurred.

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

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