Armstrong Manual Training School

The Armstrong Manual Training School is illustrative of the national campaign for vocational training for African-Americans promoted by Booker T. Washington.

The leader believed that "all forms of labor, whether with head or hand, are honorable" and Armstrong is the preeminent example of this educational movement in Washington, D.C. Armstrong is part of the cluster of traditionally black schools located around First Street, N.W. Armstrong, built between 1900-1902, was originally called Manual Training School #2 and was the African American counterpart to Manual Training School #1, which was intended for white students. In 1903, Manual Training School #2 became Armstrong Manual Training School in honor of General Samuel Chapel Armstrong, who was a white commander of an African American Civil War regiment and founder of the Hampton Institute, attended by Booker T. Washington. Originally, Armstrong Manual Training School had carpentry, machine, foundry, blacksmith, and lathe workshops. Laboratories were provided for chemistry, physics and photographic work. The building also contained seven classrooms, a study hall, and drafting room.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Armstrong Manual Training School and M Street High School were the only two high schools that admitted black students. From its founding, Armstrong operated as an important institution and symbol for the African American community in Washington, D.C. and helped to improve the quality of life for its students. The school was designed by Waddy B. Wood, an important local architect whose buildings played a significant role in the development of early 20th century Washington, D.C. In the mid-19th century the District of Columbia emerged as a national model for educating African Americans.

In 1870, the Preparatory High School for Negro Youth became the first public high school for black students in the United States. The high school was located in the basement of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church. The school occupied several spaces before it obtained its own building in 1891 located at the comer of 1st and M Streets and New York Avenue; it renamed itself M Street High (today the building is known as Perry School Community Services Center, Inc). The school achieved academic excellence as a result of its dedicated faculty and administrators, all of which had impressive credentials. For example, prior to 1891, Richard T. Greener, the first black graduate of Harvard University and Mary Jane Patterson, the first recognized black woman to earn a college degree in the United States (Oberlin College, 1862) ran the school. Francis Cardozo, Sr. was the first principal at M Street High. He established a rigorous classical curriculum and expanded the school to a four year program.

At the end of the nineteenth century college preparatory institutions for African Americans came under attack. At this time, Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, led a campaign for vocational training of African-Americans. He argued that training in agricultural, technical, and business instruction, as opposed to the arts and humanities, would ensure racial progress. During this period, Anna J. Cooper, the principal of M Street High, successfully resisted the pressure to turn the high school into a trade school. In 1925, the name was changed to Armstrong Technical High School.

Armstrong now houses the Friendship Armstrong Academy, a public charter school.

DC designation May 23, 1996
National Register listing August 16, 1996

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1400 1st St NW, Washington, DC 20001