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Why do they call it that? Blanche Armwood High School: Pioneering educator and amateur comedian

7:35 AM, Feb 14, 2013   |    comments
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Education for all. If you love that idea, then you'll love the drive and dedication of Blanche Armwood.

Her story is the perfect one to tell during Black History Month.

Why do they call it Armwood High School?

If you were white in the early 1900's, chances are good when someone brought up a bold black woman, you thought of age-old uneducated stereotypes like Aunt Jemima or "Mammy."

That's the world Blanche Armwood lived in. It's a world she was determined to change.

Check out her resume.

An educator, born in Tampa, Blanche Armwood founded schools across the South to teach black women life skills.

She became Tampa's Supervisor of Negro schools -- basically, superintendent of all of the segregated schools for black students.

In a time when attention and money went almost entirely to white schools, Armwood took advantage of the economy and politics of the era: the Roaring Twenties and the Florida Land Boom.

Armwood built five new buildings for black students including the first accredited high school, extended their school year from six to nine months, and gave African-American teachers a raise.

Her resume includes joining and even leading several groups pushing for an end to the Jim Crow laws that put white people ahead of all others.

She was also an amateur comedian.

Wait -- what? Well, she could be funny.

As women of all races fought for suffrage -- the right to vote -- she apologized.

She said it's really a bad deal for the guys, since women would basically get two votes now: her own, and her husband's... since everybody knows who's really in charge in a marriage.

That likable attitude led to folks calling her a "feminine Booker T. Washington." Like Washington, Armwood used her moderate, pleasant nature to win over opponents.

And she wasn't done. Blanche Armwood enrolled in Howard University's law school at age 44. She became Florida's first African-American woman to graduate with a law degree.

But too soon, at 49 years old, Armwood died suddenly, not long after graduation.

Today, Armwood High School in Seffner carries on her name and her mission of education and equality.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

Blanche Armwood learned how to break down barriers from her parents. Her father, Levin Armwood, Jr., was Tampa's first black police officer.

Special thanks to the USF Libraries Special Collections team, which keeps all of the papers and records from the remarkable Armwood Family.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Thursday on 10 News starting at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy Award-winning series at our "Why do they call it that?" website:













Follow 10 News reporter Grayson Kamm on Twitter at @graysonkamm as he travels Tampa Bay telling your stories.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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