Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Mattie E. Coleman, 1870-1943

By Kobe Walker, Kalie Rials, Terriana Jones, Maria Kanu, undergraduates, Howard University
Teacher: Professor Amy Yeboah

As one of history's notable black women, Mattie Elizabeth Howard Coleman was a renowned, well-rounded individual. Little information is really known about Mattie, however; she goes down in history for her important role in ministry and women's suffrage. Mattie E. Coleman was born on July 3, 1870 in Sumner County, Tennessee, the oldest of four children. Being her mother's identity to this day is still unknown, Mattie and her three other siblings were born under the care of their father Howard. It is important to note as well that Mattie's father typically went by the named Reverend Howard, serving as a minister at in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Given the religious influence that surrounded Mattie in her childhood, Mattie experienced a connection to religion at a young age. When she was twelve years old, Mattie converted and joined the same church at which her father ministered. One can argue, this was the start of Mattie's taking on her prominent role as a religious leader.

Along with religion, education was important in the Coleman household. The family valued education to such a high extent that Mattie graduated high school at the age of fifteen, and continued with her education, attending Central Tennessee College in 1885. Later, she attended Nashville's Meharry Medical College. When she graduated in 1906, and became the nation's first black female physician. Coleman became the first dean of women and medical adviser at Lane College. She would work 20 years as a medical examiner and then decided to add another first to her career. Coleman became the first graduate of Meharry dentistry program. Coleman didn't stray from first and achieving what seemed to be impossible.

While attending Meharry Medical College, Mattie met P.J. Coleman, and they were wed in 1902. Coleman got very involved in the community when her husband accepted a call to Wesley Chapel in Clarksville, Tennessee, where she joined her husband and set up a medical practice in the community. She soon became very dedicated in serving her community and combining her Christian beliefs with her medical practice. She found passion in helping individuals in poverty and in less privileged areas. While spreading the gospel to the community, she dedicated her work to young African American men and women where she hoped they would benefit from the knowledge of Christianity.

Mattie E. Coleman was a very successful African American woman. Not only was Mattie an influence for herself in her medical and religious endeavours, but she was also influenced by outside sources such as her husband. Since she was a feminist, she influenced many African American Women in the movement which led to her help found the Women Connectional Missionary Society as well as register over two thousand -five hundred African American to vote in a Nashville campaign. Mattie also helped establish Nashville's Bethlehem Center where they are still providing community outreach services today. She was able to show the community that change could happen which brought hope to many African Americans in the area. Over Coleman's lifetime she made many accomplishments which included becoming a medical examiner and opening up her own medical practice for indigent patients, taking a role in various temperance and suffrage movements, producing several articles for the A.M.E Review, being a tuberculosis advisor, and a superintendent of the Tennessee State Vocational School for Girls. Coleman was the first president of the Women's Missionary Council at Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and was also named the first dean of women and medical advisor at Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee.

Mattie Eliza Howard Coleman died on August 12, 1943 and was laid to rest at Greenwood cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee. At her final resting place, Dr. Coleman is remembered as the First Women's Missionary council at Christian Methodist Episcopal church. Dr .Coleman's tombstone causes great confusion on which year she passed away. Although, 1943 was the year she passed away, the dates on her tombstone 1918-1993 represent the celebration of the 75th anniversary of Women's Missionary Council. Dr. Coleman is recognized as a prominent individual in African American history and an inspirational woman to women of color. Dr. Coleman's legacy includes registering 2,500 women to vote in Nashville and her great leadership at Tennessee State Vocational School for Girls as a superintendent. She gave great value to the medical work with 20 years of dedication. Today she is remembered for her great work in medicine, women's rights, and the role she demonstrated in leadership in the church.


Aasang, Nathan. African-American Religious Leaders: A-Z of Africa American. 2003,

Mattie Eliza Howard Coleman (1870 - 1943) - Find A Grave Memorial,

Murphy, Larry G., et al. Encyclopedia of African American Religions. New York: Routledge, 1993,

Smith, Jessie Carney. Notable Black American Women. Book II. Detroit: Gale Research, 1996, pp. 125-28.

Taneya, Author. "Dr. Mattie E. Coleman Wreath Laying Ceremony." AAHGS Nashville, African American Genealogy & History in Nashville, Tennessee, 12 Oct. 2017,


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