By: Ruth P. Watson
Narrator: Janina Edwards
Simon & Schuster Audio
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: 06/13/2023
My Rating: 5 Stars + (ARC)
In the vein of The Engineer’s Wife and Carolina Built, an inspiring novel based on the remarkable true story of Virginia’s Black Wall Street and the indomitable Maggie Lena Walker, the daughter of a formerly enslaved woman who became the first Black woman to establish and preside over a bank in the United States.
Maggie Lena Walker was ambitious and unafraid. Her childhood in 19th-century Virginia helping her mother with her laundry service opened her eyes to the overwhelming discrepancy between the Black residents and her mother’s affluent white clients. She vowed to not only secure the same kind of home and finery for herself, but she would also help others in her community achieve the same.
With her single-minded determination, Maggie buckled down and went from schoolteacher to secretary-treasurer of the Independent Order of St. Luke, founder of a newspaper, a bank, and a department store where Black customers were treated with respect. With the help of influential friends like W.E.B. DuBois and Mary McLeod, she revolutionized Richmond in ways that are still felt today. Now, her rich, full story is revealed in this stirring and intimate novel.
Master storyteller, Author Ruth P. Watson breathes new life into the forgotten history of a true maverick, Maggie Lena Walker, the first Black woman to charter an American bank, in her latest thought-provoking remarkable, and insightful novel—A RIGHT WORTHY WOMAN.
Maggie was a pioneer, scholar, entrepreneur, and one of the most prominent bankers ever, deserving a place next to the great American entrepreneurs and leaders.
The novel is an extraordinary reimagining of historical fiction based on a true legend from 1876, covering more than 50 years —A critical and integral part of our history that often forgets the essential Black women's perseverance, passion, and significant accomplishments.
Maggie Mitchell was only 12 when her father was found dead along the James River in Richmond, Virginia, which they say was a drowning. Her mother suspects foul play, but of course, no one investigates.
Left alone to raise Maggie and her brother, they grow up poor and try to survive with their laundry business. It is hard work and low pay, and soon Maggie decides she will have the life of her mom's white, affluent clients with power and class. She would help others in the community achieve the same. Then a teacher, back to Saint Luke's, and then on to be a successful businesswoman.
I loved how, as a young girl, she asked Mrs. Thalhimer, how can I live like you?"
Why could white women make a difference and not Blacks? Maggie was determined not to settle—she would not be silenced. BRAVO!
Soon Maggie begins attending meetings of the Independent Order of St. Luke, a humanitarian group for Blacks within the community in Richmond, Jackson Ward. Later under her leadership, Jackson Ward became known as the "Harlem of the South" and the "Black Wall Street of the South."
Maggie loves her work, becomes immersed in the community, and helps change policies. It is here that she meets her future husband, Armstead Walker. He admires her tenacity, and she informs him early on her work will always be front and center, even after marriage and a family. Her husband was not threatened by her ambition, stood by her, but often worried about her and the dangerous encounters.
She instills in her children and family the importance of building the gap between blacks and whites. She faces multiple obstacles and stands firm.
With three children, she continues her work with the help of her husband by her side and her caring mom, who lives with them and helps with the children and household.
Maggie comes up against politics and life in a man's world, but she never backs down. She is focused and passionate about her work and eventually takes over the order's leadership, opening the first charter bank and a black emporium. She helps many blacks open their own business and thrive.
I love how Maggie does not back down from a man. Not her husband, her business associates, or her competition. The Author renders a critical story of a successful leader, a fearless woman who thrives and overcomes many obstacles in a time when women did not speak out.
Richly complex for a woman to go up against men in this period is almost unheard of, especially for a black woman. Highly commendable. She faces threats, tragedy, and intimidation, and many men say she does not act like a woman but a man, but nothing will STOP her.
Rich in detail, character, time, and place, I learned much - Maggie has influenced entrepreneurs worldwide to achieve their goals. Uplifting and inspiring! Even during racial times, Jim Crow, a pandemic, and the Great Depression, the bank survived, eventually merging with other banks, and still operates in Richmond today.
A true heroine and advocate, Maggie was well respected, courageous, a leader, and worked tirelessly for equal rights. She devoted her time and energies to changing and improving conditions for women and girls in business, employment, and a haven for those at risk.
A triumph! A RIGHT WORTHY WOMAN is a beautiful, heartfelt story of an extraordinary woman from a forgotten history. Watson has recreated Maggie Lena Walker's life with meticulously researched historical details, and her passion shines through as the characters come alive on the page.
Thank you, Ruth, for telling this remarkable story of a hidden figure whose account is long overdue. Her character sets the stage for Black women and women for many generations.
Maggie's strength, ambition, passion, tenacity, and determination will inspire all women, regardless of color or class. A RIGHT WORTHY WOMAN shines, eloquently capturing the perseverance, grit, and heart of a formidable woman who builds an empire while facing insurmountable obstacles.
I enjoyed her business and personal relationships with Mary, her mom, husband, children and grandchildren, and her contemporaries—a bonus the Author's note, additional book resources, photos, and history.
Top 10 Historical Fiction of 2023! Highly recommend! I look forward to reading Watson's backlist. For fans of Kianna Alexander's Carolina Built, which I also enjoyed.
"When it comes to success, the choice is simple. You can either stand up and be counted or lie down and be counted out. —Maggie Lena Walker
I especially enjoyed reading about Thalhimers (her competition) and its main rival, Miller & Rhoads. The Winston-Salem, NC Thalhimers store, housed in the Sosnik-Morris-Early Commercial Block, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, where I worked downtown as a regional marketing manager for BOA (former NCNB).
@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks
Pub Date: June 13, 2023
My Rating: 5 Stars +
Top Books of 2023
“A Right Worthy Woman is a remarkable and stirring novel, a story destined to be told. Ruth P. Watson brings to vivid life a woman who changed history, a woman both determined and fascinating, a woman named Maggie Lena Walker. From the heartbreaking opening line to the closing scene, the reader is on a transformational journey as Maggie Lena Walker revolutionizes both Richmond, Virginia and women’s history. Inspiring and rich with detail, this is your next book club read.”
— Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Book of Flora Lea
“A stirring fictional account of a remarkable figure...Watson’s love of Maggie shines through"
“Illuminating...This appealing portrait would be perfect for a high school classroom.”
“History that’s never been told is being shared by master storyteller Ruth Watson in such an epic way.” -
—Brenda Jackson, New York Times bestselling author
“It is my distinct honor and pleasure to support this inspiring novel based on the life and times of Maggie Lena Walker, who was one of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority esteemed honorary members, inducted into our beloved organization in 1926.”
— Dr. Valerie Hollingsworth Baker, 25th International Centennial President of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc
“A character this richly complex and relentlessly determined deserves a place in the pantheon of great American entrepreneurs . . . Although our complicated racial history runs through this story, the author’s skill as a novelist makes Walker’s journey as enjoyable as it is inspiriting.”
— Pearl Cleage, award-winning playwright and bestselling author of What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day
“In A Right Worthy Woman, Watson lovingly crafts a jewel of a story to bring life back to Maggie Lena Walker—a genius Black financial wizard of Jim Crow–era Virginia. Readers will prize her amazing legacy as a welcome and crucial addition to the growing collection of historical fiction about unsung Black women’s lives.”
— Piper Huguley, author of By Her Own Design
“Watson has given us an extraordinary journey of a determined woman who, against the odds, reminds her community what can be accomplished when united around a common vision.”
— Kaia Alderson, author of Sisters in Arms
“Maggie’s story is one that needs to be told, not only to understand the past, but to inspire the present. Author Ruth P. Watson rivets the reader with rich period detail and emotional impact. A Right Worthy Woman is a literary journey to the deep and dark recesses of our history, one that we all would be better for taking.”
—- Tracey Enerson Wood, author of The Engineer’s Wife
“Watson masterfully connects the reader to Maggie Lena Walker’s world in an impactful manner and gives voice to Walker’s innermost feelings and frustrations as she traversed the hazardous journey of being a Black woman, wife, mother, advocate, and entrepreneur in the Jim Crow South. This nineteenth century voice needs to be heard today in the twenty-first century!”
— Dr. Cassandra Stroud Conover, former District Attorney of Petersburg, Virginia
“The story of Maggie Lena Walker as masterfully told by Ruth Watson is about daring to dream the unimaginable and achieving it. It is set in a different time, yet its fundamental theme – that understanding the socio-economic and financial drivers of our time is essential for building resilient families and economically viable communities- remains as relevant today as it was in her time. Maggie Lena Walker’s story is of global significance as a mirror of the experiences of the African diaspora.”
— Dr. Renosi Mokate, Executive Chairman at Concentric Alliance
About the Author
Ruth P. Watson is the author of Blackberry Days of Summer, An Elderberry Fall, Cranberry Winter, and Strawberry Spring. A musical stage play, Blackberry Daze, is based on her debut novel. She is the recipient of the Caversham Fellowship, an artist and writer’s residency in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, where she published her first children’s book in Zulu, Our Secret Bond. She is a freelance writer and member of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and has written for Upscale, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other publications. She is an adjunct professor and project manager, who lives with family in Atlanta, Georgia. WEBSITE