Where Legends Are Made

Past Presidents

The University of Alabama has been home to many legends. Some examples of these legends are highlighted below. The list will be updated periodically. We invite you to submit your own suggestion for a legend.

Judith L. Bonner

Judy Bonner was the University’s first female president, and had served as the provost and executive vice president prior to becoming president. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University and returned to the Capstone as a faculty member in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, where she eventually served as dean.

Guy Hubert Bailey

Guy Bailey served as UA’s president in 2012. Prior to returning to UA, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, Bailey served as president of Texas Tech University. Bailey left UA after 60 days as president to care for his ailing wife.

Robert E. Witt

Robert E. Witt served as president of the University from 2003-2012, when he accepted the chancellorship of the University of Alabama System. Immediately prior to joining the University, Witt served as president at the University of Texas at Arlington. Under his leadership, the Capstone saw extensive growth in enrollment, particularly from out-of-state students, and campus facilities.

Andrew A. Sorensen

Andrew Sorensen led the University from 1996-2002. He originally joined UA in 1990 as vice president for academic affairs after a stint as provost of the University of Florida. Sorenson helped the Capstone navigate a particularly troubled economic climate, promoted research and recruited National Merit Scholars.

E. Roger Sayers

Roger Sayers served as University president from 1988-1996. He joined UA as a faculty member, became director of the UA Arboretum, then vice president for academic affairs before being named president. Sayers launched a $165 million Campaign for America, which helped recruit Mercedes Benz to Tuscaloosa, positively impacting the greater Tuscaloosa economy to this day. Under his leadership, the University raised admission standards, and the National Alumni Association almost doubled its membership.

Joab Langston Thomas

Joab Thomas returned to the University to take the helm as president from 1981-1988, having previously served at UA as professor, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and vice president for student affairs before being named chancellor of North Carolina State University. During his tenure, the Capstone tripled its research funding, raised admission standards, established a core curriculum and a University-wide honors program, initiated the presidential scholars program and developed the UA Arboretum (Thomas served as the second director of the Arboretum).

F. David Mathews

David Mathews, a Capstone alumnus, served as University president from 1969-1980. Mathews was the youngest president in University history at the age of 33 when he began his tenure. From 1975-1977, Mathews served as secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare for President Gerald Ford, during which time Richard Thigpen served as acting president.

Frank Anthony Rose

Frank Rose served as University president from 1958-1969, and oversaw the successful desegregation of the campus. As president, Rose served as the middle man between the U.S. Department of Justice and then-Governor George Wallace during the infamous stand in the schoolhouse door. During his tenure, Rose increased the size of the faculty; raised tens of millions of dollars in research funding; increased academic standards; expanded graduate programs and helped build national championship-winning football teams.

Oliver Cromwell Carmichael

Oliver Carmichael served as University president from 1953-1957, after serving as chancellor of Vanderbilt. Carmichael was president during the controversy surrounding Autherine Lucy Foster’s enrollment as the first African American student to enroll at UA.

John Morin Gallalee

John Gallalee served as president at the Capstone from 1948-1953. Gallalee was supervisor of campus construction when he was named president, after serving as a professor. He oversaw great physical growth of the campus, including nine residence halls, two classroom buildings and a stadium expansion.

Raymond Ross Paty

Raymond Paty was named president in 1942 and served in that capacity until 1947. Prior to his presidency at UA, he was president at Birmingham Southern University. Hampered by reduced funding and rationing from World War II, Paty still advanced the campus, promoting research and starting the University Press. He also oversaw the establishment of a four-year accredited medical college (now UAB) as a branch of UA in Birmingham.

Richard Clarke Foster

Richard Foster served as University president from 1937-1941. He had earned his bachelor’s degree from the University years earlier. Foster Auditorium was constructed and named after him in the year following his death.

George Hutcheson Denny

George Denny served as UA’s president from 1911-1936. Prior to leading the Capstone, Denny served as president of Washington and Lee University. During his tenure at the University, he oversaw major expansion of enrollment and the physical campus. UA went from nine major buildings, 400 students and no paved streets or sidewalks when he assumed the presidency to 23 major buildings, 35 fraternity and sorority houses and nearly 5,000 students by the time he retired. Denny was beloved by the student body. Bryant-Denny Stadium and Denny Chimes are both named in his honor.

John William Abercrombie

John Abercrombie was president of the University from 1902-1911. A UA Law School graduate, he served as a state senator and as state superintendent of education prior to taking the helm at UA. During his presidency, Abercrombie successfully lobbied the legislature for significant funding increases and oversaw the modernization of University facilities, including electric lighting installation and a sewage system. He expanded both the medical school and the department of engineering. He went on to serve in the United States House of Representatives, then as Acting Secretary of the United States Department of Labor.

William Stokes Wyman

William Wyman served as president of the University from 1901-1902 after declining the position six times and serving as interim president four times previously. Prior to accepting the presidency, Wyman, a UA Law School graduate, was a University faculty member, teaching Latin and Greek. He also served as a state representative prior to his presidency.

James Knox Powers

James Powers served as president of the Capstone from 1897-1901. He returned to UA, where he earned his master’s degree, after serving as president of Alabama State Normal College (present-day Alabama State University). During his time leading UA, Powers increased enrollment and faculty appointments to record numbers.

Richard Channing Jones

Richard Jones served as president at the Capstone from 1890-1897 after serving as a state senator. During his presidency, he also taught constitutional and international law at the University. Under his leadership, several sports programs were started, including football, track and tennis; and the crimson and white school colors were adopted. Jones was the first president to see female students enrolled at the University, after much persuasion from Julia Tutwiler.

Henry DeLamar Clayton

Henry Clayton led UA as president from 1886-1889 after serving as a circuit court judge and previously as a state representative. He served as president until his death.

Burwell Boykin Lewis

Burwell Lewis was University president from 1880 until his death in 1885. Prior to his role at the University, Lewis served as a state representative and a United States representative. The first UA graduate to serve as president, Lewis was responsible for increasing funding from Congress to rebuild the University physically and psychologically after the Civil War.

Josiah Gorgas

Josiah Gorgas served as president from 1878 until 1879, when he was too sick to maintain his role as president. Upon his illness, the Board of Trustees created the position of librarian for him, which his wife (Amelia Gayle Gorgas) succeeded upon his death.

Carlos Green Smith

Carlos Smith served as University president from 1874-1878. Smith was Julia Tutwiler’s uncle and traveled around the state to recruit students, successfully increasing enrollment. It was during his tenure in 1878 when the Alabama State Legislature replaced the University’s Board of Regents with a Board of Trustees.

Nathaniel Thomas Lupton

Nathaniel Lupton served as president of the University from 1871-1874, a particularly trying financial time in the University’s history. Upton came to the University from Southern University (present-day Birmingham Southern University). He also served as the state chemist.

Matthew F. Maury

Matthew Maury served as University president in 1871. Maury had expertise as an astronomer, historian, oceanographer, meteorologist, cartographer, author, geologist, and educator. His uniform system of recording oceanographic data was adopted by navies and merchant marines around the world and was used to develop charts for all major trade routes. Several U.S. Navy ships have been named in his honor.

William Russell Smith

William Smith served as University president from 1870-1871, immediately after the Reconstruction Years following the Civil War. He had previously served as mayor of Tuscaloosa and as a state representative.

Landon Cabell Garland

Landon Garland was president of the University from 1855-1865, previously teaching English literature and history at UA. Garland was president during the Civil War and the burning of the campus. According to legend, his wife is known for having stopped the Union troops from burning down the President’s Mansion.

Basil Manly

Basil Manly served as president of UA from 1837-1855. During his presidency, he established many reforms, including his support for the Anti-Dueling Society, which set out to prevent young men from settling disputes with guns. Manly also improved science programs at the University by hiring several notable faculty members. Manly strived to maintain a traditional education curriculum but recognized the need for liberal arts and professional education.

Alva Woods

Alva Woods was the University’s first president, serving from 1831-1837. Having previously served as president of Transylvania University, Woods was also one of only four faculty members when UA opened its doors. Woods envisioned the University as a "cloistered school of rigid discipline and rigorous scholarship.”

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