From 1905 until her death in 1934, Maggie L. Walker lived at 110 1/2 E. Leigh Street in Jackson Ward - Richmond, Virginia's premier African American neighborhood. Today her house is a furnished museum operated by the National Park Service. Come inside to take a walk through the past.
Born into poverty in 1864, pioneering entrepreneur and civil rights activist Maggie Lena Walker reached national prominence in 1903 as the nation's first African American female bank president. In addition to her practices of economic empowerment, she emphasized education, civic engagement, and gender equality as the path towards racial justice during the Jim Crow era.
In 1904, the year after launching her St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, Maggie Walker purchased a Victorian town house in the heart of Richmond's vibrant African American neighborhood, Jackson Ward. Maggie Walker moved into the home a year later with her husband, Armstead Walker, Jr., her mother, two sons, and adopted daughter.
The home was built in 1883 and prior to Walker, had been owned by two different African American doctors including Dr. Robert Jones (at left, in carriage).
Over the years Walker expanded the house to accommodate her growing family.In 1922 Walker added a columned porch and balcony (right) giving the house the stately appearance seen today.
As Maggie Walker began to suffer from diabetes in her older age, she had a special wheelchair constructed to assist her mobility. The custom designed chair also featured a detachable writing desk.
Determined to maintain her countless leadership responsibilities, Mrs. Walker continued to write letters, sign checks, and draft speeches from the comfort of what she called her "rolling chair."
This hand-tinted photograph captures Maggie L. Walker's four grandchildren. From left to right they are Maggie Laura, Mamie Evelyn, Armstead, and Elizabeth. All four grandchildren spent the early years of their lives in their grandmother's home though Maggie Laura stayed until she moved off to medical school at the University of Michigan. It was Dr. Maggie Laura Walker Lewis who transferred the deed of her grandmother's home to the National Park Service in 1979.
Walker’s oldest son, Russell, and his wife, Hattie, shared this bedroom, which was situated next door to their mother. Though lacking in privacy, the room had access to the second story sun porch, and kept them only a few steps from their daughter, Maggie Laura, whose bedroom was just down the hall.
This hand-colored image depicts Maggie Walker's mother, Elizabeth Draper Mitchell. Born into slavery, she eventually worked as an assistant cook in the Richmond mansion of Elizabeth Van Lew, a noted abolitionist and Civil War spy. Walker's mother supported her two children by working as a laundress and later became a midwife. She lived with Walker at their Leigh Street home until she passed away in 1922.
Melvin (left; 1897-1935) and Russell (right; 1890-1923) were Mrs. Walker’s only two sons who lived into adulthood; a middle child, Armstead, died soon after he was born in 1894. Throughout their lives, both Melvin and Russell remained close by their mother’s side, living at home (even while raising families of their own) and working in various capacities for her bank, and fraternal organization, the Independent Order of St. Luke. Both boys died of illness while in their thirties but, thankfully, their wives and children continued on helping to preserve the home and setting the stage for the museum you see today.
Mrs. Walker helped vote President Roosevelt into office in 1932 and was even invited to his inaugural speech in 1933. Her support for Roosevelt, a Democrat, broke ranks with the majority of African American voters who continued to vote Republican. Roosevelt was elected in 1932 with just under 25% of the African American vote, a figure that was nearly tripled by the time he was re-elected in 1936. Since then, African American support for the Democratic party has been largely consistent which places Mrs. Walker on the cutting edge of a revolution that continues to affect our political landscape.
We hope you have enjoyed this virtual tour of Maggie L. Walker's home. To learn more, visit the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site in Richmond, VA. Here you can watch a film on Mrs. Walker's life, view exhibits, and tour her home in person. The site is free and open Tuesday through Saturday. Call 804-771-2017 or visit www.nps.gov/mawa for more information.
Benjamin Anderson, Park Guide
Ethan P. Bullard, Museum Curator
Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site
Photography by Carol Highsmith, Google, and NPS Museum Management Program Digital Project at Harpers Ferry Center