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The Independent Order of St. Luke (IOSL) was a mutual benefit society founded in 1867. This organization played a prominent role in the history of African-American women. For 35 years it was led by Maggie Lena Walker (c. 1867-1934), a teacher and activist who eventually became the first female bank president in the United States. The IOSL’s original purpose was to provide for the care of the sick and burial of the dead, although its activities expanded over the decades to include youth programs, economic assistance such as insurance and mortgages, and political activism. When Walker took over the organization in 1899 it was in decline, but under her leadership it grew from 1,085 members to over 100,000.
The IOSL was focused on improving the financial independence of the African-American community during the Jim Crow era. In 1903 Walker founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, VA, which served African-American clients, many of whom were women. Under her direction the IOSL also began publishing the St. Luke Herald, a newspaper that reported on the injustices faced by African-Americans, including segregation and lynching. The IOSL disbanded in the 1980s.
Ewing, A. (2005). Independent Order of St. Luke. In Black Women in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.