Archivist, Scholar, Lawyer, Leader
Able scholar and lawyer, Thomas McAdory Owen is best remembered as founder of the Alabama State Department of Archives and History. While a practicing attorney in Alabama, he developed a keen interest in preserving the official public records and historical documents of his home state. With his work, leadership and guidance, the Legislature passed a statute creating the Alabama State Department of Archives and History, February 27, 1901.
A few days afterward on March 2, 1901, Dr. Owen was named Director of the Archives. He served a total of three, six-year terms and was reelected to a fourth term in 1919, though his death at the age of 53 on March 25, 1920, cut short the completion of his last term.
Dr. Owen's ancestry included prominent Virginians, North Carolinians and Alabamians. He was the first born of nine children of William Marmaduke Owen and Nancy Lucretia McAdory. He was graduated from the University of Alabama with highest honors, receiving the AB degree. Still in his twenties his alma mater bestowed upon him the honorary degree of Master of Arts and, in his late thirties, the LL.D. degree.
Dr. Owen's tremendous energies and extensive interests are reflected in his activities as a publishing scholar. Among numerous distinguished works are his History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography (four volumes published after his death in 1921); updated Pickett's Annals of Alabama from 1819 to 1900; "Bibliography of Alabama," 1887, and "Bibliography of Mississippi," 1899, which appeared in the Reports of the American History Association. In addition he edited a number of historical publications.
He served as a founder of the Southern History Association, as Secretary of the Alabama Historical Society, as founder of the Alabama Library Association as well as the Alabama Anthropological Society, as President of the Mississippi Valley Historical Society, and as officer and leader in numerous other historical, professional, and patriotic organizations.
Upon his death, his wife, Mrs. Marie Bankhead Owen, succeeded Dr. Owen as Director of the Department of Archives and History.
Thomas McAdory Owen was inducted into the Alabama Men's Hall of Fame in 1991.