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Maggie Lena Walker (1867-1934), organizer and founder of the St. Luke Bank and Trust Company of Richmond, Virginia, was born in a poverty-stricken family in Richmond. The family lived in an alley, where her widowed mother earned only meager living as a laundress. A gifted child, Maggie completed high school at the age of 16 and began a teaching career. After taking a course in business, she left teaching in 1889 to become the executive secretary of the Independent Order of St. Luke. Within 10 years, she had become secretary-treasurer, and she held this position for 35 years.

            The purpose of the Order of St. Luke was to provide assistance to its members in sickness, in old age and in meeting funeral expenses. Mrs. Walker’s duties were to collect the dues, verify the claims and keep the books. She conceived of the idea of training the members to save and invest their money. When she assumed the job of secretary-treasurer, the order had only 3,408 members, no reserve funds and no property. By 1924, she had increased membership to 100,000, had also acquired a home-office building valued at $100,000, had organized an emergency fund of $70,000 and had established a newspaper, the St. Luke Herald.

            In 1902, she had proposed the plan for the founding of the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, of which she later became president. In time, the bank became the St. Luke Bank and Trust Company, a depository for gas and water accounts and for city taxes.

            Mrs. Walker, well known for her interest in individuals, had been influential in helping those who first helped themselves. For instance, she once encouraged a one-legged bootblack to save his pennies. When he had accumulated $50, the order helped him first to rent, then purchase a place of his own. Children, encouraged to deposit meager earnings in a savings account, were taught by the order to save with the definite purpose of using their earnings wisely.


Source: International Library of Negro Life and History by Wilhelmena S. Robinson, Publishers Company, Inc., New York, Washington, London under the auspices of The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (1967).*Black has been substituted for the word “Negro” originally used in this citation.





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