Julia P. H. Coleman


Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Dr. Julia P. H. Coleman (Robinson), 1873-1950

By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Binghamton University

Julia Pearl Hughes was born in North Carolina in 1873, the daughter of John and Mary Hughes. In 1880 the family lived in Melville, NC and Julia was the sixth of eight children. John Hughes, a widower in 1880, was recorded as a farmer.

Julia graduated from Scotia Seminary in 1893 and earned a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Howard University in 1897. She established her own pharmacy in Philadelphia and married James Coleman in February 1900. The 1910 census found the couple living in Newport News, VA. Julia continued to run a pharmacy, while her husband was a newspaper editor. They had no children, but two relatives and a boarder lived with them.

The couple divorced in the 1910s and Julia moved to Washington, DC and by 1920 she had taken up the hairdressing trade. She made quite a success selling a concoction she produced, "Hair-Vim," and according to a Wikipedia biographical sketch she expanded into "hair lotions, soaps, face creams 'corn salves,' and shampoos." Subsequently her business expanded into Baltimore and New York.

The first public notice that connects Coleman to civil rights issues is a newspaper account in the Washington Bee of a reception in May 1914 that honored Robert Terrell on his recent appointment as a DC judge. Terrell was the husband of noted educator and "race woman," Mary Church Terrell.

Coleman's engagement in race issues became clear a few years later. In 1918, when traveling by train from Baltimore to Washington, DC, Coleman was denied a seat in the Ladies' car and was pushed off the train by the Railway's employees. She sent a detailed account of the incident to the NAACP in New York, and sued the company for damages. Walter F. White, Assistant Secretary of the NAACP, encouraged her lawyer and also wrote to Archibald Grimke, head of the Washington branch, asking him to assist in any way that he could. She won her case and received $20 in damages plus her lawyer's fees. The Crisis, official journal of the NAACP, publicized the verdict in the case. The journal also reported on Coleman's purchase of a brownstone in Harlem to which she moved her business in 1919.

Her connection with the NAACP continued and in February 1921, Merritt joined a delegation of 60 Black women suffragists, who protested violations of the recently ratified 19th Amendment in Southern states that denied Black women their voting rights. The delegation, headed by NAACP field secretary, Addie W. Hunton, met with Alice Paul, head of the National Woman's Party (NWP), on the eve of the party's national convention. Their purpose was to press the NWP to pass a resolution calling on Congress to investigate the failures of Southern states to enforce the 19th Amendment for Black women. Paul made no such commitment and the convention as a whole refused to endorse the call.

Coleman served as secretary of the National Woman's Wage Earners Association in 1921. The purposes of the association included: "To better the working hours and the housing and wage-earning condition of women in all lines of work, and to secure as many of them as possible as members of the organization."

In New York city, Coleman remained active in race matters. She served as president of the St. James' Forum of St. James Presbyterian Church, which in June 1923 sponsored a talk by A. Philip Randolph, editor of The Messenger. In 1924 she ran in a Republican primary for a seat in the New York General Assembly but was not successful. In 1926, in her capacity as chairman of the Business Department, she organized a New York recital by Marian Anderson to raise funds for the Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs. In 1927 she was elected president of the Federation of Colored Women's Clubs of New York City.

In August 1930 Julia Coleman married Rev. John Wallace Robinson, pastor of St. Mark's Methodist Episcopal Church. He died in 1941 and Julia Coleman Robinson died in New York city in September 1950 and was buried in Staten Island.


Federal Manuscript Censuses, Melville, NC, 1870 and 1880; Newport News, VA, 1910; District of Columbia, 1920; New York, NY, 1930 and 1940. Accessible online with Ancestry Library Edition.

"Julia Pearl Hughes," in Wikipedia, accessed online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Pearl_Hughes.

"Social Progress," The Crisis, 17:2 (Dec. 1918), p. 87. See also The Crisis, 18 (1919), p. 309.

List of NAACP Delegation Members to Alice Paul, 12 February 1921, NAACP Papers, Part 04 Voting Rights and Voting Rights Campaign, 1916-1950 (Feb. 8, 1921-April 3, 1921), frames 61-64, Library of Congress.

"Marian Anderson Charms and Delights Large and Enthusiastic Audience of New York Folk," New York Age, 15 May 1926, p. 7.

"St. James Pres. Church," New York Age, 6 June 1925, p. 5.

Jeannette Carter, "Washington Letter," New York Age, 2 August 1917, p. 5.

Jeannette Carter, "Washington Letter," New York Age, 19 March 1921, p. 5.


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