Howell Lee Watkins
Courtesy the Howell L. Watkins family
Howell Lee Watkins (1894-1965) was born near Boston, Georgia, descended from a 17th-century governor of North Carolina. After graduating from Emory University, he taught school in Georgia, served in World War I, and in 1920 married Margaret Cumber Foxworthy (1900-1987). Watkins moved his family to Fort Myers in 1923 to be city superintendent of schools, and in 1933 to West Palm Beach to be principal of Palm Beach High School (PBHS), a position he held for fifteen years.
In 1933 Watkins co-founded Palm Beach Junior College (PBJC), Florida’s first public two-year college, and due to the Depression, served as unpaid dean and teacher. He was elected Palm Beach County superintendent of schools 1948-1964, the longest tenure in the district’s history and a time of change, when county schools began to end racial segregation and the number of schools increased from 55 to 86. During this period, Watkins also was a member of the President’s Mid-century White House Conference on Children and Youth, and chaired Florida’s Citizens’ Committee for the Study of Education, which resulted in the Minimum Foundation Program Act; PBJC was the first school to benefit from support under this law. He served as director and president of the Florida Education Association and director of the Palm Beach County Fair Association and Palm Beach County Junior Museum.
Watkins was honored with the Junior Chamber of Commerce Good Government Award, the Civitan Club Man of the Year, and recognition for life achievement by the Florida Senate. Howell L. Watkins Junior High School (now Howell L. Watkins Middle School) was named for him in 1962.