The home of Maggie L. Walker, formally known as The Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, is located at 110 ½ Leigh Street in Richmond’s Jackson Ward. It has been a part of the National Park Service since 1978 and opened as a public museum in 1985. Preservation of her home as a national landmark presents an esteemed honor and tribute to this African-American woman who, at the turn of the 20th century, emerged as one of the nation’s most astute and influential business leaders.
Maggie Lena Mitchell Walker was born in 1867 to a former slave in the home of Elizabeth Van Lew in Church Hill. The site is now the location of Bellevue Elementary School. Van Lew, a member of a prominent local family and staunch abolitionist, was a spy for the Union forces during the Civil War. Young Maggie was a member of First African Baptist Church in Court End. After her father died, she worked with her mother collecting and delivering laundry for white customers. At this time, she noticed the economic and employment disparities between whites and blacks in the city. This discovery compelled her to later help blacks fiscally improve their lives.
At the age of fourteen, she joined the Independent Order of St. Luke, a benevolent society formed in Baltimore after the Civil War to aid blacks during times of illness and funeral needs. During this time, she taught school and studied accounting at night. After she married Armstead Walker, she stopped teaching, yet continued her mission with I.O. St. Luke and elevated through the ranks of the organization. By 1899, she was elected to its highest position, Right Worthy Grand Secretary of St. Luke, and had later risen to Secretary-Treasurer. Under Mrs. Walker’s skilled leadership, the organization grew into a successful financial institution. To help blacks become economically stronger, she chartered the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1902 under I.O. St. Luke. She became the country’s first black woman bank president. The bank was located at First and Marshall Streets in Jackson Ward. By 1920, over six hundred homes had been financed for African-Americans in the area by the bank, helping to decrease a factor of economic disproportion she witnessed as a child. In 1930, the bank merged with two other black-owned banks forming Consolidated Bank and Trust. For several years, she remained the president of this financial institution, which at one time had several locations in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas. In 2011, Consolidated Bank and Trust was closed.
In addition to her efforts with I.O. St. Luke, Mrs. Walker also served on several boards of other local organizations such as the Richmond Chapter of the NAACP and the National Association of Colored Women. In 1936, the second public high school in the city for blacks was built and named after her. It closed in 1989 and reopened in 1998 as the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies.
Mrs. Walker and her family purchased the house in 1904. The Italianate-style townhouse
was built in 1889 by George Boyd, an African-American contractor. It’s a two-story brick structure, which they had updated and renovated by the distinguished black architect Charles T. Russell. Russell designed many homes and businesses in the area. He also renovated Ebenezer Baptist Church on Leigh Street. Her home was expanded to twenty-eight rooms and they added electricity and modern heating units. To accommodate Mrs. Walker as her health declined, Russell later added an elevator. Mrs. Walker remained there until her death in 1934.
Sitting in the middle of “Quality Row”, the erstwhile term for the 100 block of Leigh Street, where many affluent blacks of the early, bustling 20th century resided, the home is recognized by the prominent green and white striped awning. Jackson Ward was a very vibrant, busy, and economically sound neighborhood and the Walker family cherished it. Many of the other homes of the block are also noted as a part of the National Park Service, and they’ve been renovated to reflect the charm and prominence of the era. It is a beautiful home, replicating the Walker family lifestyle of the 1930s, exhibiting their furnishings and décor.
Visit The Maggie L. Walker Historic Site. It’s a great opportunity to view a film reflecting the times of Richmond during Mrs. Walker’s life and receive a guided tour of her residence. There is also a gift shop.
Hours of operation are:
- Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., (Winter Hours: November 1 through February 28);
- Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., (Summer Hours: March 1 through October 31).
House is closed on Sundays, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.
Originally posted on April 15, 2011 on examiner dot com. This article has since been updated.