“Through her guidance of the Independent Order of St. Luke, Walker demonstrated that African American men and women could be leaders in business, politics, and education during a time when society insisted on the contrary.”

~ National Park Service

On July 15, 1864 in Richmond, Virginia, Elizabeth Draper gave birth to baby girl that she named Maggie Lena. Elizabeth, who was had been previously enslaved, worked as an assistant cook in the home of abolitionist and philanthropist Elizabeth Van Lew.  Van Lew, a Unionist, is best known for her development of one of the most extensive spy rings against the Confederacy.  It was at Van Lew’s estate in Church Hill where Elizabeth met Eccles Cuthbert, an Irish American who also hailed from Virginia.  Cuthbert, a reporter for the New York Herald, was the father of Maggie; the two never married.

When Maggie was four years old, Elizabeth married William Mitchell, who also worked at the Van Lew mansion as a butler.  Her stepfather’s surname would be given to her and Maggie Draper would be known as Maggie Mitchell.  In 1870, the Mitchell couple welcomed a baby boy, who they named Johnnie.

William gained a position as the headwaiter at the premier Saint Charles Hotel.  Their access to greater prosperity allowed him to move his family to a house in College Alley, not far from Van Lew, the Medical College of Virginia and First African Baptist Church.  It was at First African Baptist Church where she was baptized and an active lifelong member.  Sadly, in 1876, the body of William Mitchell was found, having been drowned in the James River.  Though authorities cited the cause of death of suicide, Elizabeth vehemently denied their allegations, asserting that William had been murdered.

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