Maggie Lena Walker (1864-1934) is not a household name, but she made a huge difference in the lives of African Americans in the Richmond, Virginia area. In 1903, she was the first woman of any race to found a bank. It grew out of the St. Luke’s Benevolent Order, a charity that helped aged and poor African Americans. Although all customers were welcome, her stated goal was to help Black women, who had a very difficult time getting credit. You can see that commitment in the picture of the board members above. Exactly half of them are women, unusual then and now.
In the picture above, Walker sits third from the right in the front row. At first glance, her outfit—a white shirtwaist and dark skirt–looks informal when compared to some of the other women in dark dresses. However, Walker’s clothing was common attire for white collar women all over the country in the early years of the twentieth century. To me it looks like she had shown up ready to work, not to present herself as the boss lady.
On the cover photo for Forbes magazine, you can see her in fancier attire. Although she wears the long strand of pearls so stylish in the era, her dress does not have a twenties style dropped waist. Perhaps she did not think it flattered her large chested figure.
This remarkable woman’s house is now a National Park Service site.