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Another Brief History of Black Women in Finance

A person with long black braids and a gray sweater holds a white mug and reads while smiling from a book. There's a wooden table with a plant next to them.
Photo by Alexandra Fuller via Unsplash.

Happy Black History Month!

Especially after the last year we’ve all had, it’s important to take time to celebrate those who came before us, those who are here now, and those who will lead future generations to come. Cue Kamala’s “we did it” meme.

But, it can be difficult to stay optimistic as Black women in finance when the industry has been so slow to progress in the way of racial and gender diversity and inclusivity. The National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants has made it widely known that less than 1% of CPAs in the United States are Black. On their site, they even include a short disclaimer that the number seems to oscillate among surveys, with some reporting that the percentage is less than 1%, while others posit that it's closer to a little less than 3%.

Whether the number is less than 1% or less than 3% is irrelevant; it’s still shockingly low.

Digging even further, there don’t even seem to be numbers available for the percentage of CPAs who are Black women.

With such a lack of inclusivity and access to this industry, it’s been an uphill battle to secure a career and grow within the field.

But guess what: Black women in accounting are here. And they always have been.

Maggie Lena Walker

A black and white photo of Maggie Lena Walker looking to the left side of the frame with a cross and pearls around her neck.
Maggie Lena Walker, born in 1864, was a Black businesswoman and teacher. "Maggie L Walker National Historic Site" by National Park Service is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Maggie Lena Walker was the first Black woman to charter a bank and serve as its president in the United States.

After working as a teacher and leaving the profession formally in 1886, she began giving her time to the Independent Order of St. Luke, a burial society turned fraternal order and life insurance company that devoted itself to the financial independence of the Black community.

In 1903, she chartered the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, Virginia, became the President of the bank, and included several Black women on the leadership board.

After the bank merged with two other Richmond banks to become The Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, Walker served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors.

Walker dedicated her career to uplifting and empowering the Black community. In a speech, Walker stated her life’s mission clearly:

“Let us put our moneys together; let us use our moneys; let us put our money out at usury among ourselves, and reap the benefits ourselves.”

Lillian H. Payne

Lillian H. Payne isn’t as well-known a woman in finance as her confidant, Maggie Walker, but she was known at the time as Walker’s right-hand woman.

Payne first worked with Walker at the Woman’s Union, a cooperative society for Black women in the 1890s.

When Walker was approached about chartering St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, she asked Payne to join her in the endeavor, appointing her to the Board of Directors. Payne served on the Board of Directors at the bank from 1903 until she retired in the 1940s.

A black and white image of the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, VA.