UA Honors Ardent Supporter of History as She Turns 100

Frances Summersell
Frances Summersell

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – One of the most generous supporters of the history department at The University of Alabama will soon make some history of her own — by celebrating her 100th birthday on Sept. 16.

UA’s department of history, the College of Arts and Sciences, Omicron Delta Kappa Senior Honor Society and The Other Club student organization will honor Frances Summersell with a birthday reception at 4 p.m. in the Summersell Room (room 251) in ten Hoor Hall.

“One need only mention the name Frances Summersell and people smile with love and admiration,” said Dr. Robert F. Olin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Mrs. Summersell is truly a ‘leading lady’ in our College. Her dedication to the College of Arts and Sciences has been strong and steadfast throughout her lifetime. Her generous contributions have elevated the quality of learning in the College in most significant ways. This lady is indeed a leader through her actions and an inspiration through her dedication, grace and charm. We take great pleasure in honoring Mrs. Summersell on her 100th birthday,” said Olin.

“Frances and her late husband Charles (a former UA professor of history) have been without any doubt the most generous givers and supporters of our department in the last couple of generations,” said Dr. Lawrence Clayton, professor and chair of UA’s history department.

“In many other ways, Frances and Charles have made the department a wonderful place to work, to teach, and to collaborate as scholars and teachers. We look forward to celebrating this milestone with our good friend.”

Among Mrs. Summersell’s many gifts was an endowment to develop and support the Charles Grayson Summersell Chair in Southern History. The 1997 funding of this endowed chair position, named in remembrance of Mrs. Summersell’s husband, assists UA in attracting a faculty member who is a scholar of southern history and who has a strong national reputation.

Dr. George Rable holds the position. The endowment also funds a lecture series where additional high-profile history scholars are brought to campus to speak to students and faculty.

Her generosity also led to the creation of what would become known as the Summersell Room. Located in ten Hoor Hall, the conference room serves as a reception area for visiting lecturers, entertaining guests and other special occasions. Earlier, Mrs. Summersell established annual awards, also named in recognition of her husband, and given to eight to 10 undergraduate students who have excelled in history. She has also been a generous supporter of UA’s Women’s Center, created in 1993 to improve campus awareness and responsiveness to women’s issues. She also established the prestigious Summersell Award, given annually by Omicron Delta Kappa Senior Honor Society to an outstanding leader who has made significant contributions to the betterment of life in the state of Alabama and nationwide.

Dr. Charles Summersell was a member of UA’s history department from 1935 until his retirement in 1978. He was named department head in 1954 and served in that capacity for 16 years. During that period, the history department doubled in size and its graduate program was greatly expanded.

“In most of Charles’ historical endeavors, Frances was his closest adviser and collaborator,” Clayton said. “Charles dictated his highly successful book ‘Alabama History for Schools’ to Frances at her typewriter, and she assisted in editing this book read by thousands of Alabama school children in the mid-twentieth century.” That work was first published in 1957.

Charles Summersell received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UA, and subsequently a doctorate from Vanderbilt University in 1940.

The W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library has on display a small exhibition of materials in honor of the 100th birthday of Summersell. The exhibition is in the lobby of the Hoole Library, located on the second floor of UA’s Mary Harmon Bryant Hall and will be on display for the 2002-2003 academic year. The exhibit features materials from the Summersell Maritime Collection and the Hoole Alabama Collection, as well as a collection of miniature Confederate Ironclads, a gift from Summersell to her husband. In addition to donating the papers of her husband, Summersell also provided funding to process the collection. She is also the donor of the Charles G. Summersell Maritime Collection, and she created the Charles Grayson Summersell Endowment, which funds the acquisition of library materials on the history of the American Gulf of Mexico.


Chris Bryant, Assistant Director of Media Relations, 205/348-8323,


Dr. Lawrence Clayton, 205/348-1855