At the beginning of the twentieth century, Armstrong Manual Training School and M Street High School were the only two high schools in DC that admitted black students. From its founding, Armstrong operated as an important institution and symbol for DC's African American community 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.
In the mid-19th century, the District of Columbia emerged as a national model for educating African Americans, and Armstrong is the preeminent example of this educational movement. The school, built between 1900 and 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, 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 end of the 19th 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 Inventory: May 23, 1996
National Register: August 16, 1996