Celebrating Black History Month with a Portrait of Blanche Armwood

Compelling stories of local leaders can be found within USF Libraries’ Special Collections. Local politicians, civic leaders, and business owners have deposited their papers with the USF Libraries so that future generations can learn from the obstacles they faced and achievements they accomplished while contributing to the development of the Tampa Bay Area.

In honor of Black History Month, Digital Dialogs would like to highlight the story of one local leader for her commitment to education and equality. Blanche Armwood became a prominent figure on the national stage, known for her dedication to education and social reform. Elements of her story can be found in the Armwood Family papers. This collection houses the memories and deeds of one of Tampa’s most prominent African American families. A small selection of this collection has been added to USF Libraries’ Digital Collections.

“Group of women members of the Tampa Urban League,” USF Libraries Digital Collections. Blanche Armwood is top row, first on left

The youngest of five children, Blanche Armwood’s teaching career began at the age of 16 when she graduated from Spelman Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia with honors and a teaching certificate in 1906.  She began teaching in heavily segregated Hillsborough County immediately and within two years, was serving as the principal of Cottage Hill primary school on the edge of Ybor City (“Blanche Armwood,” 2020; Kite-Powell, nd; Howard & Howard, 1994).  Armwood left Tampa briefly in 1913, relocating to Tennessee with her husband, where she became active in public affairs.  Upon her return in 1914, after an annulment, she incorporated this public interest into a new position as a demonstrator with the Tampa Gas Company. In 1915, Armwood developed the Tampa School of Household Arts for the Tampa Gas Company in partnership with the Hillsborough County Board of Education and the Colored Ministers Alliance (Halderman, 1996; “Blanche Armwood,” 2020).  The school trained African American women and girls in household management including the use of modern gas appliances.  After the school’s success, Armwood went on to establish similar schools with other companies in South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Louisiana.

In New Orleans, between 1917 and 1920, she worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as Supervisor of Home Economics and wrote a wartime home economics and cookbook:  Food Conservation in the Home.  During this time, she married John C. Beatty, a dentist.  Beatty returned with her to Tampa in 1922 where she became the Executive Secretary/Director of the Urban League.  While working with the Tampa Urban League, she led the establishment of a public playground, day care center, and a kindergarten for African American children (“Blanche Armwood,” 2020).  Two years later, she was appointed the first Supervisor of Negro Schools, a position she would hold until 1930 (Halderman, 1996). “She believed that teaching naturally involved a commitment to improving the conditions of blacks” (Halderman, 1996), and in this position, she would secure new school buildings, extend the school year of African American students to be equal to that of white students, improve sanitation of the schools, increase black teacher salaries, and oversee the opening of the first accredited black high school in the county, Booker T. Washington High School (Hooper, 2011).

While Armwood’s early career was peppered with many personal and professional achievements as well as great strides in local social reform, the late 1920s were marked by tragedy.  Her husband, Dr. Beatty was killed in front of her by a friend and roomer at their home in 1926 (“Tampa Dentist Slain by Friend,” 1926).  Around this time, Armwood was acting as assistant principal at Booker Washington High School. However, it seems that Armwood and her colleagues at Booker Washington High School may have conflicted with each other at some point.  In October 1930, a scandalously titled newspaper article, that ran in newspapers across the state, announced her dismissal and the impending end to her appointment as Supervisor of Negro Schools.  The article was vague, with administrative contacts at the high school refusing to give details (“Tampa Teacher Advised to Keep Out of Schools,” 1930).  To set the record straight, Armwood rallied her supporters in a rebuttal to the New York Age that clarifies her intended, voluntary resignation from Hillsborough schools to pursue other opportunities. In her rebuttal, she affirmed that the article originally published by the Tampa Bulletin and run in the New York Age, among other newspapers, was a ‘false story circulated by a few malicious enemies’ (“Mrs. Beatty,” 1930).

By the end of 1930, Armwood married Edward T. Washington and moved with him to Washington, DC.  She was unsuccessful at obtaining a position in the school district, so she turned her attention to earning her law degree from Howard University (Halderman, 1996).  She earned her degree in 1938.  A year later, not long after both her mother and father passed away, she travelled to Medford, Massachusetts to deliver a speech at the National Association of Colored Women’s annual meeting where she sadly became ill and died of a blood clot (Guzzo, 2015).

Due to her conservative and diplomatic approach toward race relations, Blanche Armwood has been compared to Booker T. Washington, both by her contemporaries and by historians.  Her seeming to accept the white power structure while at the same time working toward interracial cooperation on local issues would later gain her criticism for accommodating whites (Hooper, 2011).  Yet, other contemporaries described her as a ‘rebel’ who demanded equal rights and did not ask for favors (Jones, 1999).  It could be said that Armwood used the methods she deemed necessary to obtain her goals in any given situation.  However she obtained her results, it cannot be argued that Blanche Armwood left an indelible impression on Hillsborough County.  Tampa would not be the city it is today without Armwood’s tireless work. Her legacy is marked by her belief in equality, education, and reform. She worked to improve the lives of others and in so doing, left an indelible mark on the history of Tampa by improving school conditions for African Americans in Hillsborough county, helping to establish the Tampa Urban League, and providing new skill sets to housewives and domestic workers.

Learn more about this pioneering social activist by visiting the resources below:

  1. Armwood Family papers in Special Collections: https://archives.lib.usf.edu/repositories/2/resources/321
  2. Alishahi, Michele (2003). For Peace and Civic Righteousness”:  Blanche Armwood and the Struggle for Freedom and Racial Equility in Tampa, Florida, 1890-1939. USF Graduate Thesis. https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/etd/1321/
  3. Selection of Armwood family papers in Digital Collections: https://digital.lib.usf.edu/results/?t=armwood&f=ZZ&o=0
Discover more compelling stories by reading our celebration of Black History Month 2020:

 

REFERENCES

  1. Blanche Armwood (2020) Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blanche_Armwood
  2. Halderman, K. (1996). Blanche Armwood of Tampa and the Strategy of Interracial Cooperation. The Florida Historical Quarterly, 74(3), 287.  Persistent link to this record (Permalink): http://ezproxy.lib.usf.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.30148848&site=eds-live
  3. Hooper, E. (2011). Armwood’s Story Is One Worth Sharing. The St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, FL).  Persistent link to this record (Permalink): http://ezproxy.lib.usf.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgov&AN=edsgcl.248338796&site=eds-live
  4. Howard, W. T., & Howard, V. M. (1994). Family, religion, and education: a profile of African-American life in Tampa, Florida, 1900-1930. The Journal of Negro History, 79(1), 1.  Persistent link to this record (Permalink): http://ezproxy.lib.usf.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsglr&AN=edsgcl.17311098&site=eds-live
  5. Jones, M. D. (1999). Without Compromise or Fear”: Florida’s African American Female Activists. Florida Historical Quarterly, 77(4), 475–502.  Persistent link to this record (Permalink): http://ezproxy.lib.usf.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ahl&AN=45800286&site=eds-live
  6. Kite-Powell, R. (n.d.) Blanche Armwood (1890-1939).  Friends of the River Walk.  https://thetampariverwalk.com/historical-monument-trail/blanche-armwood/
  7. Mrs. Beatty, Tampa, Fla., Not Removed from School. (1930)  The New York Age.  08 Nov 1930, Sat.
  8. Tampa Dentist Slain by Friend (1926) The St. Paul echo. (St. Paul ;), 13 Feb. 1926. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90059272/1926-02-13/ed-1/seq-1/>
  9. Tampa Teacher Advised to Keep Out of Schools.  (1930)  Richmond planet.  (Richmond, Va.), 18 Oct. 1930. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84025841/1930-10-18/ed-1/seq-1/

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