The University of Alabama would not be where it is today if it weren’t for the leadership of women throughout its history.
In 2012, Dr. Judy Bonner became the 28th president of The University of Alabama and its first woman president. Bonner previously served as executive vice president and provost of the University, and during her tenure as provost and president, each year the academic strength of the student body and the faculty exceeded the record set the previous year. Bonner also served as dean of the College of Human Environmental Sciences from 1989 until 2003. Prior to coming to UA, she held faculty appointments in the department of pediatrics at The University of Alabama at Birmingham and the department of medical dietetics at The Ohio State University. Bonner earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The University of Alabama and her doctorate from The Ohio State University, all in nutrition. Bonner served as president of The University of Alabama until July 2015.
Dr. Kathleen Cramer retired from The University of Alabama in 2012 after 36 years of service to the Capstone. After beginning her career at UA in 1975 as the assistant to the dean of student life, Cramer served in housing, campus activities and student life, rising to lead the Office of Student Life from 1989 to 1994. Cramer was promoted to assistant vice president for student affairs and director of student life from 1994 to 1999. Cramer also assisted with the creation of the Blackburn Institute, for which she served as the founding adviser. Cramer built a career out of listening to students’ dreams and working with them to make those dreams come true, including the creation of Big Al as the University’s official mascot, the founding of the XXXI organization, and the constitutional convention reinstating the Student Government Association on campus. Since her retirement in 2012, Cramer has served in interim roles at the Capstone. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and higher education administration from The University of Alabama, followed by her master’s degree and doctorate in higher education administration from the Capstone.
Dr. Catherine Johnson Randall earned two doctorates from UA, and has been named one of the top 31 female UA graduates of the century. Randall was the first UA woman to serve as the national president of Mortar Board, a national honor society for college seniors. She was also one of the first three women in the nation to be tapped for membership in Omicron Delta Kappa, a national honor society recognizing leadership, service to the campus community and academic excellence. In 1978, Randall was named director of the Computer-Based Honors Program at The University of Alabama, which has become one of the most highly acclaimed undergraduate honors programs in the nation. In 2018, UA renamed the Computer-Based Honors Program the Randall Research Scholars Program. Randall is also a member of The Alabama Academy of Honor, which includes 100 outstanding living Alabamians. In 2020, to honor her family’s generosity and longtime commitment to the University, UA’s North Campus Way was renamed Randall Way by The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees.
Sarah Patterson was the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide gymnastics team from 1979 to 2014. She built one of the most successful programs in the history of college gymnastics, winning 29 regional titles, eight Southeastern Conference Championships and six NCAA Championships. She was named SEC Women’s Gymnastics Coach of the Year four times, and the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Coach of the Year four times. Patterson was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. Her 1988 national championship team was the first women’s team in any sport at The University of Alabama to win a national title. In celebration of her career and six championships, the Sarah Patterson Champions Plaza was built on the University’s campus between Coleman Coliseum and Sewell-Thomas Stadium.
In 2014, Karen Phifer Brooks was named as the first woman to serve as president pro tempore of The Board of Trustees of The University of Alabama. As a presiding officer of the board, Brooks led the board of trustees in their mission to ensure the effective leadership, management and control of the institutions of the UA System.
In 1970, Dr. Lena Prewitt became the first African American female professor to be appointed at The University of Alabama. Before making her mark at the Capstone, Prewitt received a fellowship to work with rocket scientist Werner von Braun at NASA in Huntsville. Prewitt served as the only African American on the team working on Saturn V. In addition to teaching in what is now known as the Culverhouse College of Business, Prewitt also held teaching and administrative positions at Stillman College, her alma mater. She has been a noted speaker on manufacturing, education, equal rights, and international relations and has served on advisory commissions in various countries.
Julia Tutwiler, known as the mother of coeducation in Alabama, successfully lobbied The Board of Trustees of The University of Alabama to begin admitting women as students at the Capstone. She served as co-president of the Livingston Normal School, which is now the University of West Alabama. Tutwiler was instrumental in the creation of the University of Montevallo, a successful advocate for prison reform in Alabama, and she wrote the official state song. Tutwiler Hall, the female freshman residence hall on the south side of campus, is named in her honor.
Read more stories about Women’s History Month at The University of Alabama.