Remembering Beatrice Coleman

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Submitted photo: Brown University President Christina Paxton talks with Beatrice Coleman at her 109th birthday party.

Submitted photo: Brown University President Christina Paxton talks with Beatrice Coleman at her 109th birthday party.

Rest in peace Beatrice Coleman: We were was privileged to run a story and photo a few years back related to a birthday celebration for Beatrice at the Tockwotton Home when it was located in Providence.

Beatrice passed away on April 3 at the age of 109. She would have observed her 110th birthday tomorrow, Sunday, April 20. Beatrice was one of three African-American women in the Brown University Class of 1925, and she was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, an African-American sorority that was one of her passions. Another was Brown.

According to information from the university, Beatrice was the granddaughter of slaves. She was raised in Providence by her mother, who worked as an errand girl for a local dressmaker, and by her grandparents, a watchman and practical nurse-midwife. She wanted to attend Howard University, in Washington, D.C., where two of Rhode Island’s first black doctors had gone, but her family couldn’t afford the travel expenses so she remained in Providence. During college, Beatrice lived at home because black students weren’t allowed then to reside in university dormitories.  

Coleman had difficulty finding a teaching job after graduation because of racial restrictions in the Providence

schools so she started her career teaching Latin in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to the information from Brown. When Providence eliminated its restrictions, Beatrice returned home to direct a nursery school before joining the school department at the Emma P. Bradley Hospital.


Coleman was secretary of the New England Regional Conference of the NAACP and served on the scholarship and the public relations committees of the Rhode Island Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. She was also active in the Providence and Cranston Girl Scouts and the Salvation Army Settlement and Day Care Center, according to Brown. Coleman, who was single, was a church organist and frequently played the piano for her fellow residents of Tockwotton, a senior living community that is now located in East Providence and called Tockwotton on the Waterfront.

I remember the Tockwotton personnel and people connected to Brown at the birthday celebration I covered had a profound respect for Beatrice and all that she accomplished. Her life was inspirational.  


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