Preserving the Past for the Future at Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH)

Established in 1901, the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) is the pioneering publicly funded, independent state archives agency in the United States. Committed to identifying, preserving, and providing access to records and artifacts of historical significance to the state, ADAH serves as the official repository for records generated by state agencies.

Over its century-long existence, the department has remained steadfast in advocating for the preservation of Alabama's historical resources and promoting education on the state's history. This article delves into the establishment and growth of ADAH, highlighting the pivotal roles played by key figures such as Thomas McAdory Owen and Marie Bankhead Owen, as well as the contributions of successive directors in advancing the department's mission.

Key Takeaways

  • ADAH was founded in 1901 as the first publicly funded, independent state archives agency in the nation.
  • Its main purpose is to identify, preserve, and make accessible records and artifacts of historical value to the state.
  • Thomas McAdory Owen, the founder and first director of ADAH, played a crucial role in its establishment and growth.
  • Marie Bankhead Owen, the second director of ADAH, made significant contributions, including securing funding for ADAH's headquarters and expanding its scope.

Establishment of ADAH

The Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) was established in 1901 as the first publicly funded, independent state archives agency in the nation. Since its inception, ADAH has had a significant impact on historical artifacts preservation, actively identifying, preserving, and making accessible records and artifacts of historical value to the state.

It serves as the official repository for records created by state agencies and has been advocating for the preservation of Alabama's historical resources for over a century. Through its efforts, ADAH has played a pivotal role in promoting education, particularly in relation to Alabama's rich history.

The establishment of ADAH marked a crucial milestone in the preservation and accessibility of historical materials, laying the foundation for the organization's enduring legacy in safeguarding Alabama's heritage.

Thomas McAdory Owen's Influence

Thomas McAdory Owen's leadership and dedication significantly shaped the founding and early development of the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH). Despite a legal career, Owen's passion for history and Southern patriotism were instrumental in establishing ADAH.

His influence is evident in the following ways:

  1. Owen's Legal Career: Despite being a lawyer, Owen's passion for history led him to draft bills that called for the establishment of a commission to research and preserve Alabama's history.
  2. Southern Patriotism: Owen's second bill, passed amidst fervent southern patriotism, contributed to the establishment of ADAH, aligning with the sentiments of the time.
  3. Advocacy and Creation: Owen's report to the governor in 1900 recommended the creation of a state department of archives and history, laying the groundwork for the establishment of ADAH.

Owen's multifaceted contributions laid the foundation for ADAH's enduring legacy.

Growth and Expansion

Under Owen's supervision, ADAH experienced significant growth and expansion, particularly in its holdings focusing on Civil War-era collections.

Preservation initiatives played a pivotal role in this expansion, with ADAH actively acquiring collections related to the Civil War period. The department's commitment to preserving Alabama's historical resources led to the strategic acquisition of diverse materials, contributing to a comprehensive portrayal of the state's history during this crucial period.

This emphasis on preservation and acquisition not only enriched ADAH's holdings but also facilitated a deeper understanding of Alabama's past.

The continued dedication to expanding and maintaining these collections underscores ADAH's enduring mission to safeguard the state's heritage for future generations, ensuring that its historical legacy remains accessible and enduring.

Marie Bankhead Owen's Legacy

Continuing the progression from the previous subtopic, Marie Bankhead Owen's legacy at the Alabama Department of Archives and History was marked by significant contributions to the expansion and cultural enrichment of the institution. Her impact on ADAH and contributions to Alabama history education are noteworthy.

Preservation of Alabama's History:

  • Marie Bankhead Owen secured funding for the War Memorial Building, establishing it as ADAH's headquarters.
  • She expanded the Public Library Service Division, enhancing access to historical resources.
  • Owen's broad vision for the museum led to the arrangement of exhibits on various historical, natural history, and artistic subjects.

Marie Bankhead Owen's dedication to preserving Alabama's history and enriching education has left an indelible mark on ADAH, ensuring the continued legacy of historical preservation and dissemination.

Successive Directors and Advancements

The succession of directors at the Alabama Department of Archives and History has been marked by significant advancements in the preservation and expansion of historical collections.

Peter A. Brannon, director from 1955 to 1967, prioritized reorganizing Civil War materials and acquiring additional collections.

Subsequently, Milo Howard, director from 1967 to 1981, spearheaded a campaign to expand the War Memorial Building for ADAH's collections. The completion of an additional wing in 1974, funded by the state, provided essential storage space.

These advancements have been instrumental in ensuring the continued preservation of Alabama's historical resources.

In addition to reorganizing collections, the expansion of storage space has enabled ADAH to further its mission of safeguarding and promoting knowledge of the state's history.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Does ADAH Ensure the Preservation of Records and Artifacts in the State of Alabama?

ADAH ensures preservation through advanced techniques, such as climate-controlled storage and conservation treatments for archival materials. The department employs expert staff to identify, organize, and catalog records and artifacts, ensuring their accessibility and longevity.

What Role Did Thomas Mcadory Owen's Wife, Marie Bankhead Owen, Play in the Establishment and Growth of Adah?

Marie Bankhead Owen played a significant role in the establishment and growth of ADAH, contributing to historical preservation and archival leadership. As a key figure, her work exemplifies women's vital contributions to Alabama's historical legacy.

What Specific Collections Did ADAH Focus on Acquiring and Preserving Under Thomas Mcadory Owen's Leadership?

Under Thomas McAdory Owen's leadership, the Alabama Department of Archives and History focused on acquiring and preserving collections with a significant emphasis on Civil War-era materials. This strategic focus greatly enriched the department's historical holdings.

How Did Marie Bankhead Owen Contribute to the Expansion and Development of Adah's Headquarters?

Marie Bankhead Owen facilitated the expansion and development of ADAH's headquarters by securing funding from the Works Progress Administration to complete the War Memorial Building. Her efforts provided a central location for preserving records, artifacts, and collections.

What Were the Key Initiatives and Accomplishments of the Successive Directors of ADAH, and How Did They Contribute to the Department's Advancements?

The successive directors of ADAH pursued key initiatives, including reorganizing Civil War materials, acquiring collections, and expanding the War Memorial Building. These efforts significantly contributed to the department's advancements in preservation methods, artifact acquisition, and expansion efforts.


While the Alabama Department of Archives and History has made significant strides in preserving the state's historical resources, one can't help but marvel at the irony of its own history being meticulously documented for future generations.

As the department continues to grow and expand, it remains dedicated to safeguarding Alabama's past, even as it becomes a part of history itself.

Our Reader’s Queries

Who is the director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History?

The Archives Building in Alabama, founded in 1901, serves the entire state of Alabama. Steve Murray oversees the operations as the director. For more information, visit

What was Alabama called before it became a state?

Alabama officially joined the United States as a state on December 14, 1819, after being a part of the Mississippi Territory from 1798 to 1817, and then the Alabama Territory from 1817 to 1819.

Who were the first people in Alabama?

Two Native American groups, the Cherokee and Muskogee peoples, were the first to inhabit the area now known as Alabama.

How was Alabama acquired?

The Treaty of Paris (1763) handed over the Mobile area, the only settled part of Alabama at the time, to Britain. In the Treaty of Paris (1783), which marked the official end of the American Revolution, Spain acquired Mobile, while the new United States obtained the remainder of the territory that now makes up the state.

Check Out For More References

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *