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May E. Francis, PhD

2003 Iowa Women's Hall of Fame Honoree:  May E. Francis, PhD (1880-1968)

"As a teacher, author, and political figure, she was an extraordinary woman in the history of Iowa."
--Sarah Meyer-Reyerson, 2002

May E Francis

May E. Francis, Ph.D., a nationally recognized educator, author, scholar, and historian, was born November 2, 1880 in rural Mapleton, Minnesota. Francis began her career as a teacher in a one-room school in Bremer County. She quickly advanced through the teaching and administrative ranks. She drafted the Standard School Law and developed the regulations to implement the law, which was designed to improve educational programs in one-room schools. In 1922, Francis became the first woman to be elected to statewide public office in Iowa - state superintendent of public instruction. Her one term as State Superintendent was marked by controversy: she advocated high school teachers must complete at least two years of college, opposed school dress codes, and championed the one-room school and spending restraint. She lost her re-election bid and moved to Texas, where she received a Ph.D. from the University of Texas in 1934. She had earlier received her B.A. degree from Iowa State Teachers College in 1910 and M.A. degree from Teachers College in Columbia University, New York. She moved to New York and in 1948, returned to Iowa, settling in Waterloo. Following her education, she undertook a varied career of teaching, government work, writing, and a final unsuccessful run for state superintendent. Her popular historical novel, Jim Bowie's Lost Mine, had five printings; the final edition was published in 1970. She also authored a fourth-grade spelling textbook. Francis died in 1968. Francis was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 2003.