Faculty/Staff News – Dr. Frances Roberts to be inducted into Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame

written by admin


December 5, 2012

For Immediate Release


Two women pioneers in historical research and writing, Zora Neale Hurston and Frances Cabaniss Roberts, will be inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame on Thursday, March 7, 2013.

Zora Neale Hurston, writer, anthropologist and folklorist, was born on January 7, 1891, to a family of sharecroppers in Nostasulga, Alabama. She was the fifth of eight children born to John Hurston, a former slave and Lucy Potts, daughter of an Alabama landowner.

As a child she was bright, curious and high-spirited. Her mother encouraged all the children to be ambitious – to “jump at de sun.”

Her early schooling was interrupted by frequent moves, but she read constantly and loved to listen to folk-stories and tall-tales. Many of these were later incorporated into her writings.

After working at many odd jobs, she was encouraged to complete high school and then to attend college. At Howard University in Washington, D.C., she was encouraged to write stories.  Her first published work, a short story, was published in 1924.

Hurston then moved to New York Citywhere she won prizes in both the short story and one-act play categories.  She eventually won a fellowship at Barnard College, where she was the only African American student.

Hurston graduated from Barnard with a degree in anthropology and spent two years in doctoral studies in anthropology and folklore at Columbia University.

For many years she did anthropological and folklore research in the South, the West Indies and Haiti.  This work provided the basis for her four novels, two books of folklore, an autobiography, numerous short stories, and several essays, articles and plays.

Unsuccessful as a writer while living, Hurston died in poverty and obscurity in 1960.  She was buried in an unmarked grave, and would have been forgotten had not Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, helped revive her writings.

Her best known writing is the novel, “Their Eyes were Watching God.”

Hurston’s writings are not taught in English and African American Studies departments across the country. All of her published works are in print today.

A new gravestone, placed on her long unmarked grave, includes the following inscription: Zora Neale Hurston, “A Genius of the South,” Novelist, Folklorist, Anthropologist.

Frances Cabaniss Roberts was born in Gainesville, Alabama on December 19, 1916.

She graduated from the two-year program of the State Teachers College, Livingston, Alabama in May, 1934, and taught in the Sumter County Public School system for two years before obtaining a four-year BS degree at Livingston College in June, 1937.

After graduating from Livingston College in 1937, she broke gender barriers as a female graduate student at the University of Alabama. She earned a Masters degree in History there in 1940. When she was awarded the Ph.D. in History in May, 1956, she was the first woman at the University to receive a doctorate in the field of history.

In addition to her historical research, she either authored or co-authored several textbooks that were long used in history and civics classes throughout Alabama. Not only did she teach at several levels, she influenced Alabamians through leadership in educational, civic and historical organizations.

Although trained as a historian, she spent her adult life explaining the value of knowing the past, not just as a subject to be explored in a library archive, but also through a living,
habitable environment through the preservation and continued use of historical buildings.

She literally helped transform the face of Huntsville as it rapidly expanded in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1965, Dr. Roberts helped form the Twickenham Historic Preservation District Association, whose purpose was to work toward passing state legislation necessary to allow cities to create historic districts with regulations and oversight authority to ensure the historical integrity of such districts.

In 1970, the Alabamalegislature passed the legislation giving cities the legal authority to form historic districts.

As a founding faculty member of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Roberts influenced every facet in its development.  Most notably, she founded the History Department, the Academic Advisement and Information Center, and championed the statewide establishment of the liberal arts based general education requirements for college and university students.

She received local, state and national recognition for her dedication to historic preservation.  “She was the founding force behind the Old Town and Twickenham historical
districts, Huntsville’s Constitution Hall Village, the Huntsville Historical Society, and the Huntsville Preservation Society.”

In 1978 she was awarded the Alabama Award of Merit or outstanding service in the Preservation of Alabama History. 

According to the AWHOF guidelines, a nominee must have been deceased for two years. Hurston died on January 28, 1960, and Roberts died on November 5, 2000.

The AWHOF, founded in 1970, is housed in the A. Howard Bean Hall on the campus of Judson College in Marion.

The induction ceremony, open to the public at no charge, will be at 10:30 a.m., March 7, 2013, in Alumnae Auditorium on the Judson College campus. Additional information is available on the AWHOF website at


Comments are closed.