The University of Alabama in Huntsville helped pay tribute to one of its first faculty members this month as the city erected a new historic marker in honor of Dr. Frances Cabaniss Roberts — a long-time faculty member in the history department — who played a major role in the founding of UAH.
The new marker was dedicated May 6 and is located at 603 Randolph Avenue, Dr. Robert’s ancestral home, known as the Cabaniss House.
The legacy of Dr. Roberts
Dr. Roberts’ legacy as an educator and historic preservation advocate is what led the Historic Huntsville Foundation, City of Huntsville and Huntsville-Madison County Bicentennial Committee to honor her with a historic marker.
A Sumter Sounty native, Dr. Roberts first taught in the Sumter County Schools before coming to Huntsville to teach for 12 years in the public schools. She was the University of Alabama Extension Center’s first full-time faculty member in 1950. Her love of history and professional development sparked her return to academia and the pursuit of her Ph.D. In 1956, she became the first woman at the University of Alabama to receive a doctorate in history.
When the Extension Center became UAH, Dr. Roberts established the History Department, serving as its chair until 1970, and her highly influential dissertation, Background and Formative Period in the Great Bend and Madison County, was published in celebration of Alabama’s Bicentennial. The book remains a seminal work on the settlement patterns of Madison County and Alabama’s early statehood history, and proceeds from book sales benefit the UAH Frances Cabaniss Roberts Scholarship fund, awarded to outstanding history majors.
Dr. Roberts was involved in so much more than just UAH. Just a few of the organizations she worked with include:
- She was a founding member of the Huntsville-Madison County Historical Society
- As president of the Alabama Historical Association and, along with local architect Harvie Jones, she wrote the nomination that created the Twickenham Historic District
- She helped save Weeden House and saw it become a museum
- She played a role in the founding of Alabama Constitutional Hall Village and Burritt on the Mountain
How Dr. Roberts helped shape Huntsville into what it is today
The marker was unveiled by the Historic Huntsville Foundation and the Huntsville-Madison County Bicentennial Committee to celebrate the historian, author, preservationist and teacher. The program was highlighted by remarks from Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, UAH Interim President, Dr. Charles L. Karr, and long-time Madison County Attorney, Julian Butler.
UAH’s first president, Dr. Benjamin Graves, once called Dr. Roberts “one of the key lanterns that lit this place. She was a great historian to begin with and also a woman of vision. She was just a tremendous person.” The historian was also the founding Director of the UAH Academic Advising and Information Center.
A prolific collector of historical materials, Dr. Roberts has voluminous archival collections maintained at three universities: The University of Alabama, The University of Alabama in Huntsville and the University of West Alabama. Her collection of papers donated to UAH’s Special Collections and Archives is a treasure trove of information for anyone with an interest in Alabama history, known as the UAH Frances Cabaniss Roberts collection.