WALKER, MAGGIE LENA [MITCHELL] (1867–1934), Virginia, bank president, philanthropist, entrepreneur, civic leader, feminist.
Throughout her life, Maggie Lena Walker was determined to promote valuable images of blacks, particularly of black women. Walker pursued her goals and accomplished them successfully through her perseverance in a variation of business establishments. She was born in Richmond, Virginia, to a former slave, Elizabeth (Draper), then a domestic worker for Elizabeth Van Lew. Walker’s birth father, Eccles Cuthbert, was an Irish-born abolitionist and newspaper correspondent for the New York Herald. In 1868, Elizabeth Draper married William Mitchell, a butler in the VanLew household. Two years later, Maggie’s half brother John B. (Johnnie) was born. Elizabeth Van Lew encouraged progress for all of her servants, including education.
In response, William Mitchell moved his family to a clapboard house in the downtown area of Richmond, today known as Maggie Walker Alley. While working as a headwaiter at the St. Charles Hotel, Maggie Lena’s mother worked as a laundress and raised the children. In February 1876, tragedy struck the family. After being missing for five days William Mitchell’s body was discovered floating in the James River. The apparent murder had been reported as a suicide by a coroner. To supplement their income, Elizabeth Mitchell increased her laundress business.
Maggie assisted her mother as a delivery person and babysitter, while continuing her education at Lancaster School. At this stage in her life, Maggie began to acquire the experience of an entrepreneur and learn the importance of female networks. In 1879, she attended Armstead Normal High School; it is here where