A Right Worthy Woman

Written by Ruth P. Watson
Review by Eileen Charbonneau

Written as a memoir, this novel tells the story of Maggie Lena Walker, a biracial woman who was the result of a brief tryst between a formerly enslaved woman and a Confederate soldier. After standing up to prejudice from both sides of the color line, she became the first Black woman in the United States to serve as a bank president.

In a narrative that spans from Reconstruction to the Depression, Maggie remains ambitious and courageous. Her childhood trauma revolves around the suspicious death of the beloved man who raised her as his own. But her intrepid mother has trust in white allies, born from a long memory of growing up within the household of Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew. Maggie finds her own allies as she fights naysayers, Black and white, to help achieve economic justice for herself and her community.

Maggie becomes a teacher until her marriage to a builder, after which she pours her considerable energy and talent into the Independent Order of St. Luke, a benevolent organization. While raising a family with her mother’s and adopted daughter’s help, Maggie rises to become founder of a newspaper, a bank, and a department store. Her life has danger and tragedies, but she triumphs over all.

This novel could have used another edit to weed out clichés, modern vernacular, and anachronisms like electric pull lights and jazz trios. Such missed details pulled this reader out of a compelling narrative of an unsung life. Nevertheless, A Right Worthy Woman takes its place alongside novels such as Rebecca Dwight Bruff’s Trouble the Water, illuminating African-American heroes born in strife who find the strength, fortitude, and love to lead lives touched by grace.