The Tampa River Walk

Blanche Armwood

Blanche Armwood (1890-1939)


Prepared by the Historical Monument Trail Selection Committee, Friends of the Riverwalk. For
Further information, contact Rodney Kite-Powell, RKP@TampaBayHistoryCenter.org


Though born into a politically connected pioneer Florida family, the future for
Blanche Mae Armwood was hardly pre-destined. Born in Hillsborough County in 1890
during the early years of the Jim Crow-era, Armwood had to overcome both racial and
gender-based biases.


Armwood excelled as a student and graduated in the first class at St. Peter
Claver Catholic School at the age of 12. That same year, she passed the state teachers
examination and became eligible to teach in Florida’s African American schools.
Armwood decided that she needed to continue her own education before she could
help other people with their own, so she enrolled in Atlanta’s Spelman Seminary
(today’s Spelman College) where she graduated summa cum laude in 1906. At the
tender age of 16, Armwood began her teaching career and by the age of 18 she served
as principal of the Cottage Hill primary school on the northeastern outskirts of Ybor
City.


After seven years of teaching, including several at Tampa’s Harlem Academy,
Armwood married for the first time. Her new husband, Daniel Webster Perkins, was
one of the first black attorneys in Florida, passing the Florida Bar in 1914 after having
previously practiced law in Knoxville, Tennessee. Though married, Armwood did not
settle into a domestic life like others of her generation. Instead, she embarked on
another facet of her career, pioneering an education discipline in the process.
Armwood began promoting “household arts schools for cooks and housewives
of the Negro race.” Gaining endorsements and assistance from both Tampa Electric
and the local school board, she began teaching the new subject of home economics.
Her work in teaching the household arts took her across the country. Armwood and
Perkins were separated by 1917, when Armwood moved to New Orleans where she
took a job as a state supervisor for home economics with the US Department of
Agriculture.


She returned to Tampa in the early 1920s and was among the founders of the
city’s Urban League; one of only a handful of women to serve in a leadership role in
that organization. During this time she also became head of Hillsborough County’s
black schools, which was a position virtually created for the talented educator and civic
leader.


By 1931, Armwood had again left Tampa, this time for Washington, D.C., where
she married Edward Thomas Washington and enrolled in law school at Howard
University three years later. Armwood earned a law degree – with honors – in 1937.
She returned to Tampa one last time, in 1938, where she was lauded as
“Tampa’s courageous daughter.” A writer predicted that she would have a “brilliant
legal and political career” but her life was cut short. The following year, on October 16,
1939, Armwood passed away at the age of 49. Though she left this world far too early,
she lived a full life for someone who died so young.