For centuries women have had to jump through hurdles due to gender discrimination. Despite this injustice, women have broken through barriers in business. In honor of Women’s History Month, we are celebrating legendary American businesswomen and in particular some legendary female bankers.
This is a three-part series. The first article honored two trailblazing female tycoons: Madam C. J. Walker and Lydia Estes Pinkham. Part two focused on two legendary newspaperwomen: Mary Katherine Goddard and Mary Ann Shadd Cary. The conclusion of this series focuses on three legendary figures in banking: Maggie Mitchell Walker and Clara and Lillian Westropp.
Maggie Mitchell Walker (1864 or 1867- 1934)
Maggie Mitchell Walker was a keen businesswoman who, despite the odds, led a successful banking enterprise and made great contributions to her community. Margaret was the daughter of a former slave, and in the 1880s, she joined Saint Luke, an insurance firm. Over the years, she rose within the ranks and extended company’s success. In 1902, she established a newspaper called The St. Luke Herald, and in 1903, she established St. Luke Penny Savings Banks. She became one of the first American women to charter a bank. The bank not only survived the Stock Market Crash of 1929, it also absorbed other banks. It’s said that until 2009 “the bank thrived as the oldest continually African American-operated bank in the United States.”
Maggie Mitchell Walker used her leadership and her influence to mindfully help her community. She was an advocate for African American women’s rights and she served on the board of trustees for the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the Virginia Industrial School for Girls. She also served as vice president of the local branch of the NAACP.
Clara Westropp and Lillian Westropp (1819-1883)
These two sisters, Clara and Lillian Westropp, pioneered in a male-dominated field and created a bank run by women for women. At a time when men controlled finances within homes and businesses, Clara and Lillian sought to help empower women to take control of their own finances. In 1922, two years after the first women’s rights movement, the Westropp sisters founded The Women’s Savings and Loan Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Lillian Mary Westropp served as the president, Clara E. Westropp served as secretary, and the bank had an all-female board of directors.
Their achievements didn’t stop with banking. Lillian Westropp was one of the first women admitted to the Cleveland Bar Association. She also served as a Cleveland Municipal Court Judge until 1957. Both sisters were also very generous. Clara helped support Catholic missions, and Lillian helped organized advocacy groups, including the Woman’s Hospital, the Cleveland League of Women Voters, and the Women’s City Club.
In conclusion, we hope our short series has inspired you to delve deeper into history and learn about extraordinary women who achieved great things despite the difficulty they faced.