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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Friends of the Riverwalk Monuments

It was cold (by our Florida standards) last Friday morning when the Friends of the Riverwalk unveiled its six historical monuments for 2014. Despite the gray skies, longtime radio host and popular guy Jack Harris remarked that so many people attended perhaps the next such event would have to be at Raymond James Stadium. He was once again the MC, and both he and Mayor Bob spoke fervently about the marvelous park that now runs from Channelside to the new Water Works Park and Ulele Springs.

You may remember that I wrote recently about the actual Ulele, who protected Spanish Juan Ortiz in 1528. There’s no statue of her yet, but there probably should be. She’s the first documented “Pocahontas,” preceding the Virginia woman (who also was real) by almost a century. We should take pride in that. There are so many historical figures who merit recognition, though, that if attorney Steve Anderson -- who originated the idea of the Riverwalk statues and volunteers his time to raise private funds for them -- follows through on his threat to make next year the last year for new ones, it will leave me with a long list beyond Ulele. Please help.

As it happens, I’m the only woman on the committee of local historians that chooses whose images go up. City council set the guidelines for this toward the end of Mayor Pam Iorio’s administration, and I’m very grateful that they did. The most important rule is that no one be depicted until he or she has been dead at least fifteen years -- which really cuts down on the lobbying for individuals that I’ve experienced with other Hall of Fame groups that allow living persons. Committee members rarely are lobbied by anyone, and instead, family members have been surprised and pleased when we tell them that their ancestor has been chosen.

Everyone on the selection committee has researched and written on Hillsborough history. All are open-minded and thoughtful about including representatives of our various communities, and I’m personally pleased that two women have been among the six chosen during each of the three years of our existence.

That’s now a total of eighteen statues, six of which are women. Well, one is ambiguous: the very first, chosen in 2012, is a Mound Builder of uncertain gender who represents the natives who once lived here. The earthen structures they erected ringed Tampa Bay and went south to the Caloosahatchee River; related tribes left similar mounds along the Mississippi River as far north as Illinois. We don’t know exactly what purposes they served, but a terse report in the British Colonial office summarized of the Tampa Bay tribe: “Tocobaga Indians, Destroyed, 1709.”

So with the abstract image first, here’s the full list of honorees by year of induction; they are alphabetized by surname:


• Mound Builder

• Eleanor (Ella) Chamberlain, leader for women’s right to vote

• Clara Frye, founder of the first hospital for blacks

• James McKay, Sr., pioneering businessman in the 1840s

• Henry Plant, railroad and hotel builder

• Vicente Martinez-Ybor, founder of Ybor City cigar industry


• C. Blythe Andrews, founder of the Florida Sentinel Bulletin, the state’s leading African-American newspaper

• Cody Fowler, nationally known attorney and civil rights advocate

• Kate Jackson, pioneer environmentalist; General Federation of Women’s Clubs

• Peter O. Knight, attorney and business leader

• Paulina Pedroso, leader in Cuba’s revolution against Spain

• Garfield Rogers, African-American businessman and founder of Rogers Park, the first golf course for blacks


• Blanche Armwood, nationally known educator; first African American to be superintendent of local black schools

• Gavino Gutierrez, architect and general contractor for Ybor City, a planned community

• Herman Glogowski, Tampa’s first Jewish mayor; elected four times

• Bena Wolf Maas, longtime president of the Children’s Home; co-founder of Community Chest

• Hugh Campbell Macfarlane, developer of West Tampa

• Moses White, African-American businessman and moderator during riots in the 1960s

Before I move on, let me connect the honorees with the columns that I’ve written recently on immigration. Although the committee did not have this in mind when we chose them, it’s notable that of this year’s six people, four were foreign born. Gavino Gutierrez was born and died in Spain (although his family shipped his body back to be buried in Myrtle Hill); Hugh Macfarlane came from Scotland; Bena Maas was a German Jew, as was Herman Glogowski. Only the two African Americans actually were born in the United States. It’s also important to point out that two of the six were Jewish: Tampa was much more welcoming to Jews than other parts of the South – and even the North.

* * *

All of these people have interesting biographies, but today I’m going to concentrate on the two women. I nominated Bena Maas, but the guys came prepared to nominate Blanche Armwood, so I’ll address her first. I had written on her as early as 1994, when I published a compendium of American women with Prentice Hall.

Although USF Special Collections has many artifacts on Armwood, she nonetheless is hard to research because she changed her name with three marriages. Contemporary newspapers thus may refer to her as Mrs. Perkins, Mrs. Beatty, or Mrs. Washington – a problem that men never face. I’m convinced that it is a major reason why women’s history gets lost, and I don’t really know the solution – except that historians have to work harder and be more thoughtful.

Blanche Armwood’s family was well established in East Hillsborough when she was born in 1890, having lived there since the days of slavery. Some of the Armwoods rose to local prominence after the Civil War, and she had strong family support. She graduated with highest honors from St. Peter Claver Catholic School in 1902 – and passed the state teachers’ exam at age twelve!

Instead of teaching, though, she went to Atlanta and again graduated with highest honors from the institution that now is Spelman University. She taught in Hillsborough’s segregated school system until 1913, when she married attorney Daniel Perkins. That marriage would last just three years, but married women seldom were allowed to teach in those days. Instead she developed an innovative program to teach domestic science to black women who were maids or cooks. TECO proved eager to implement this, and she taught the mysteries of new electric stoves, refrigerators, and vacuum cleaners to women who could not afford to own these marvels themselves.

The program expanded to other states, and the idea was adopted by the U.S. Agriculture Department (with its sideline of home economics) as Federal Household Arts Training Schools. As an employee of the Agriculture Department, Armwood moved to New Orleans, where she also took the lead in organizing the Louisiana Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. In 1919, she married Dr. John C. Beatty, but that did not deter her from working in the 1920 election, the first in which all American women could vote. Most African Americans who dared to be political in that era were Republicans, and Warren Harding named her as a national speaker for his successful presidential campaign.

Returning to Tampa in the 1920s, she was appointed by the all-white, all-male school board as the first black person to supervise the county’s black schools. She achieved her goal of an accredited high school for students of her race prior to 1931, when she changed careers and locales once again. She also led formation of Tampa’s Urban League before moving to Washington, DC. She married Edward T. Washington there and graduated with honors from Howard University’s law school. The promise of a legal career, however, was not to be, as she died of a stroke while visiting Massachusetts in 1939. She was just 49.

* * *

Formally named Philabena, Bena Wolf was born to a Jewish family near Dolgesheim, Germany, in 1863. She immigrated to Cincinnati in her late teens, along with two brothers, Fred and Morris Wolf. They joined an uncle who had established himself there. Abraham Maas, called Abe, also was born in Dolgesheim, on May 22, 1855. He had emigrated in 1875, when she was just twelve, joining his brothers, Solomon and Jacob Maas, who were merchants in Georgia. He corresponded with Bena and went to Cincinnati with marriage in mind. They wed on September 9, 1883; she moved to Georgia and bore a son on July 4, 1884. He was called Sol for his uncle.

But Georgia’s Dublin was not a booming community, while Tampa in the 1880s was on a roll. Ybor City and the cigar factories began that decade; the phosphate industry took hold with the coming of the railroad; and Henry Plant’s grand hotel soon would attract people with money to spend. With a railroad boxcar of merchandise for their store, the young family moved to Tampa and began their business at the corner of Franklin and Twiggs Street.

Initially called Abraham’s Dry Goods Palace, it opened on December 10, 1886. According to a family history, “Abe and Bena greeted every visitor that stopped by.” Their first sale was a pair of overalls, paid for with a fifty-cent note from 1855, the year of Abe’s birth. The very next year, however, they closed the new business and briefly returned north, as 1887 marked the most damaging of Tampa’s many yellow fever epidemics. About ten percent of the population died, and a quarantine that prevented shopping was severely enforced.

But that was Tampa’s last killer epidemic, and the young couple had faith in the town. With Abe’s bachelor brother Isaac (Ike) joining them, Maas Brothers soon would evolve into Tampa’s most prominent shopping destination for clothing and home goods. Although the name changed, “The Dry Goods Palace” remained emblazoned in green and gold on its awnings, and despite the lack of her presence in its name, Bena Maas was a working partner. Much later, Tribune writer Leland Hawes quoted Bena Maas as saying that they didn’t have fixed business hours: “We closed the store when the last customer departed, and that might be midnight.”

They did close on Sundays, as did every other store in Tampa, even though that was not their Sabbath. Bena’s brothers did the same when they followed her to Tampa, opening the longtime leader in men’s clothing, Wolf Brothers. Nephew Jerome Waterman would come later, and he was the father of Cecile Waterman Essrig – who, in 1967, became the first woman on the Hillsborough County school board.

Jews were accepted in Tampa more than in other “Christian” cities, and when the grand Tampa Bay Hotel opened in 1891, Bena and Abe Maas were sufficiently socially prominent that Margaret Plant included them as one of relatively few Tampans who were “special guests.” The couple bought a house at 508 Morgan Street in 1893, and about 1916, moved across the river to 601 South Boulevard.

They made a point of treating their employees fairly, and when the store celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1986, many fondly remembered parties and picnics. The family also prided itself on selling the latest styles, and Bena Maas accompanied Abe on buying trips to New York and Europe. Yet though she could have lived a life of luxury, she nonetheless immersed herself in work for those less fortunate.

I’ve used my fair share of ink already, so I’ll wait until later to tell you about the Children’s Home, of which Bena Maas was president for twenty-five years. She moved that orphanage from conditions akin to the poorhouses in Charles Dickens’ novels to a happy, healthy refuge – and this history is important to remember as our tax-supported Children’s Board comes up for renewal at the next election.

Final thought: the Latin roots of Philabena, her formal first name, break down to “phil” meaning “love,” and “bena” meaning good. “Phil” is the root of many words meaning “love of:” philharmonic (love of music), philosophy (love of knowledge), and more. Everyone knows that Philadelphia was named that because it is the “city of brotherly love.” (The teachers who told us that doubtless were careful to add “brotherly,” as “city of love” by itself could have a meaning not to be conveyed to young people.”) “Ben” is the root of words such as benefit, benevolence, and benediction. When her family named her Philabena, they probably had no idea that their daughter would move to faraway Florida and become the very definition of “philanthropist” and “benefactor” for children.

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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