History: Maude Armatage, Pioneering Park Board Commissioner

From the SW Patch on March 28, 2011

A short biography of Maude Armatage, a forward thinking woman who impacted the way our parks and recreation centers look today.

By Alison Nowak

While many are familiar with Armatage neighborhood, school and park, few know about the pioneering woman who is their namesake.

Maude Armatage’s grandparents, the civic-minded Dunsmoors, lived in the village of Harmony located in what is present day Southwest Minneapolis. Her grandfather was Justice of the Peace and Postmaster, and her grandmother ran the first circulating lending library out of her sitting room. In her biography, Armatage credited her sense of civilized leisure and civic obligation to her elders.

Maude Armatage, her husband and eight other couples were among the first to settle near Fremont Avenue in 1893. In a letter Armatage wrote to the Minneapolis Star, she told them that the small colony of houses near Lake Harriet “preceded gas, electricity, telephones, even streetcars and automobiles.”

At the time, Lake Harriet was considered a suburb of Minneapolis and was largely surrounded by pastureland and forests. Milk was not yet delivered to the area so the couples shared responsibility for three dairy cows.

In these early years, Armatage worked as a women’s liberationist, fighting for suffrage. “Those were tricky times…Mainly I tried to reason,” she told the Minneapolis Tribune. “At that time reason was considered solely a male attribute.”

After women were granted the right to vote, Armatage received a phone call from Mrs. Chas Fowler asking her to run for office. According to Armatage, Fowler said that she had been selected by a group of “civicminded and interested women” as their candidate for the Board of Park Commisioners.

Armatage wrote to the Minneapolis Star that she was inspired to run by the spirit of her pioneering grandmothers. Her decision to run made her one of the first women to run for public office in Minnesota and the first woman to serve on the Minneapolis Park Board.

Twice during her career as Park Board Commisioner Armatage was injured during her election campaign but managed to persevere in running for office. In one instance, Armatage was injured when a bus she was riding overturned.

In 1933, she had an icy fall that crushed several of her vertebrae. Because she was unable to leave her bed, the superintendent of parks, Theodore Wirth delivered the necessary paperwork to her so she could run.

She led a movement for joint school-park projects, pushing for more playgrounds and recreational programs for young people. Her devotion for the city’s children was evident and she often fought to keep programming from being cut.

Armatage studied Detroit’s collaboration between the Departments of Recreation and Education and worked to create more cooperation between the departments in Minneapolis. It was likely her work that helped create Armatage and Kenny schools, which were designed to serve joint purposes as schools and community centers.

Safety was another primary concern for Armatage. She advocated for better-policed parks and boulevards and pushed to add better lighting to increase the safety of the park system.

Armatage retired from her post as commissioner in 1950 at the age of 78, but her legacy of 28 years on the Park Board is shown in the parks, schools, playgrounds and community centers that she established and improved through her work on the park board.

The website for Café Maude, the neighborhood restaurant that also honors Maude Armatage explains that she was chosen to honor because of her “spirit of civilized leisure and civic responsibility.”