Maude B. Deering Coleman

Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Maude B. Deering Coleman, 1882-1954

By Carrie Streeter, Ph.D. Candidate, University of California, San Diego

Maude B. Deering married John W. Coleman in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on September 3, 1897. She was a seventeen-year old waitress; he was a thirty-year old coachman. Both were born in Virginia (Maude in Sperryville), and both had fled the South early in life. In Harrisburg, Maude had attended public schools, and John had found work. By the time of their marriage, both their parents had died. The few family that remained were also getting by on day labor and domestic service. Clearly, the young couple started out with seemingly few economic advantages. Such details make the recognition of Maude B. Coleman's significant accomplishments that much richer. From the 1920s through 1950s, she was a pivotal leader in the Pennsylvania State Federation of Negro Women's Clubs and a highly regarded social worker in the Pennsylvania State Department of Welfare. In the spirit of the organizations she served, Maude B. Coleman was indeed a woman who climbed and lifted and then dedicated her life to helping others do the same.

It was in Pennsylvania where Coleman developed her career in social welfare, but her training for this work reportedly began in Seattle, Washington. Like many other African Americans, she and her husband moved west in the ongoing search for better jobs and social prospects. While living in Seattle from 1911 through 1919, Coleman reportedly gained experience in "political, social service and YWCA work," likely in association with newly formed black women's clubs in the city. Coleman also reportedly completed some training in social work at the University of Washington. In the summer of 1919, Maude and John Coleman moved again—this time back to Pennsylvania. After working for a trucking company, John took a job as a school janitor. The couple never had children of their own, but they both dedicated their careers to their community.

While details of her activities in Seattle are difficult to ascertain, it is clear that during her time out west Maude B. Coleman had gained sufficient experience to secure a position as the first executive secretary of Harrisburg's newly opened Phyllis Wheatley YWCA. By the fall of 1920, she had established girls' basketball teams, gymnastics classes, and a "Story Telling" club. She also arranged for a local lawyer to teach classes in citizenship, a move that coincided with women's newly ratified right to vote.

Known as a "staunch Republican leader," Coleman mobilized black women's political power throughout Pennsylvania. By 1922, she was appointed State Organizer for Colored Voters and was elected as secretary of the Pennsylvania State Federation of Negro Women's Clubs. She would remain in leadership positions in both organizations for her entire life. Through these associations, Coleman joined her voice with thousands of black women who took seriously their hard-won opportunity to, in her words, "let their ballots speak." They stated their demands clearly. For their votes, they required significant improvements in education and economic opportunities for black communities. They required clear condemnation of racist social policies, lynching, and the Ku Klux Klan. Coleman's political vigilance was also apparent in her inter-racial efforts to protect women's legal rights. In one notable incident, she joined leaders from white clubs and organizations and effectively scuttled a bill that had would have exempted all women from jury duty.


Maude B. Coleman, age 54.
The Pittsburgh Courier. 28 March 1936

The strength of the black vote was evident in the 1922 election of Republican governor Gifford Pinchot, who campaigned on a message of improving justice and equality for all citizens, regardless of color. As part of fulfilling that promise, Pinchot appointed black leaders to influential positions in state government. Maude B. Coleman was among them. In 1924, at age forty-two, she became the first black woman hired by the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare. In order to improve welfare programs and a broad range of state services for black citizens, Coleman was instrumental in administering a survey of the state's black communities. Two years in, Coleman expressed her belief that Pennsylvania's commitment to secure "intelligent and comprehensive knowledge of the racial problem," was fostering, what she described as "a new attitude toward the negro and his status."

Maude Coleman was a member of the Rebecca Aldridge Civic Club of Harrisburg, founded in April 1920. The group distributed food, medicine and clothing tyo the poor and other charitable activities. In 1933 Coleman was serving as the club president.

Coleman's commitment to fostering goodwill through interracial actions would become the hallmark of her nearly thirty-year tenure in the Department of Welfare. At the time of her death in 1954, she was still employed as an interracial consultant for the state. In the intervening years, she had listened to the needs of countless individuals across the state and established numerous local community welfare leagues and inter-racial committees. In these efforts, Coleman ensured that Pennsylvania politicians were informed about, and responsible for improving, the social and economic inequalities that continued to disadvantage black citizens. From leading panels on fair employment practices, recreation disparities, and housing shortages, to ensuring that public school libraries had books on black history, literature and music, Maude B. Coleman was a tireless advocate for the social and economic rights of black Pennsylvanians.


Brown, Hallie Q. and Maude B. Coleman, "Resolutions by Federation: Convention of Women's Clubs Condemn Lynch Law and Mob Rule," Reading Times, 5 August 1921.

Davis, Elizabeth Lindsay, Lifting as They Climb (Chicago: The National Association of Colored Women, 1933), p. 186.

Fry, Jennifer Reed. "'Our girls can match 'em every time': The Political Activities of African American Women in Philadelphia, 1912-1941." PhD diss., Temple University, 2010.

Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks. "In Politics to Stay: Black Women Leaders and Party Politics in the 1920s." In Women, Politics and Change, eds. by Louis A. Tilly and Patricia Gurin (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1990), 199-220.

"Colored Branch of YWCA is organized in Harrisburg" Harrisburg Telegraph, 20 October 1920.

"Mrs. Maude B. Coleman: Experienced in Politics," Harrisburg Telegraph, 30 October 1920.

"Mrs. Maude Coleman: State Organizer for Women Republicans," Harrisburg Telegraph, 11 September 1922.

"New Attitude Toward Negro: Chance Comes About Through Activities in the Field of Inter-Racial Relationship," Gettysburg Times, 13 January 1926.

"Penna. Women's Head Frets Over Paucity of Jobs" The Baltimore Afro-American, 13 July 1935.

Seattle Republican: Northwest Negro Progress Number, 1909. (accessed 14 January 2020)

"State Welfare Consultant," The Crisis 42, no. 2 (February 1935): 59.

"Women Fight Jury Exemption Measure," Philadelphia Inquirer, 14 February 1923.

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