Kate Galt Zaneis, the first female to head a state college or university in the nation, served as the ninth president of Southeastern Oklahoma State Teachers College (STC, now Southeastern Oklahoma State University), Durant, from May 1935 to July 1937. Born February 17, 1887, in Springplace, Georgia, the fourth child of James E. and Miriam Galt, she moved with her family to Ardmore, where she graduated from high school in 1907. Superintendent Charles Evans immediately hired her to teach. The "tall, statuesque blonde" with looks like "a flamboyant model," married H. P. Zaneis in 1913, and they moved to Wirt, Oklahoma. Two years later a divorced Zaneis returned to Ardmore and served as principal of Lincoln Ward School. In 1915 she became the superintendent of Lone Grove High School and was on the summer teaching faculty at STC. In 1920, while working toward her bachelor's degree at STC, Zaneis was elected as Carter County superintendent to work on rural school consolidation.
As a campaign supporter of Ernest Whitworth Marland, after his election as governor she was rewarded with an appointment to the State Board of Education and successfully achieved approval of sabbatical leaves for college faculty members. In 1935, shortly before she received her master's degree from Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University) in Stillwater, Governor Marland named her president of STC. However, Zaneis's tenure proved short. Her first acts of business, including the appointment of her favorite teacher, Dr. Everett Fixley, as dean, the firing of faculty members without master's degrees, and the cutting of salaries of higher-paid men in order to adjust the pay scale of women on the faculty, caused problems with the townspeople.
Her accomplishments included securing PWA funds for buildings and athletic field improvements, the cessation of mandatory political "donations" from faculty members, a 30 percent increase in enrollment, and funds for student work programs. In 1937, at the height of her popularity and influence, Zaneis secured an appearance by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for a speech. At the zenith of her career, however, the imperious Zaneis lost her job. With the faculty men upset, the New Deal under criticism, and Governor Marland under attack for deficit spending, Marland could not help her. The State Board of Education fired her in May 1937. In her later career Zaneis served as the director of education for the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety. She also worked on the school lunch program through the Department of Public Welfare and later the Department of Education.
Zaneis died September 9, 1973, in Ardmore Memorial Hospital and was buried at Rosehill Cemetery, Ardmore, Oklahoma.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Linda Arlene Beach, "Kate Galt Zaneis" (M.A. thesis, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, 1976). Charles Evans, A Brief Review of the Life, Educational Activities and Public Service of Kate Galt Zaneis (Oklahoma City: N.p., 1963). James C. Milligan and L. David Norris, "The First Lady of Education: Oklahoman Kate Galt Zaneis," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 71 (Fall 1993). L. David Norris, A History of Southeastern Oklahoma State University Since 1909 (Durant, Okla.: Southeastern Foundation, 1986). Philip Reed Rulon, A History of Oklahoma State University Since 1890 (Stillwater: Oklahoma State University Press, 1974).
James C. Milligan
© Oklahoma Historical Society