Mary S. Coleman’s accomplishments and achievements are almost too many to be recounted. Her role in Michigan judicial history is esteemed and nearly unparalleled. Coleman was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1972, becoming the first woman justice in the state, and the third woman in the nation to sit on a State Supreme Court.1 Seven years later, she became the first female Chief Justice to sit on Michigan Supreme Court.
As a pioneering woman in the legal profession, Coleman felt pressure to prove her competence. When reflecting on her experience as a practicing attorney, Coleman confided, “I have always proceeded on the theory that women have to work harder than men to achieve comparable status in the legal community.”2 At a time with so few women in the profession, the performance of one woman often came to represent the capability of women as a whole. Coleman’s tireless dedication to her work and resulting success in the legal profession proved that a woman could do a “man’s job.”
Mary S. Coleman scaled to the heights of the Michigan judicial system on her own merit. During her election campaign for a position on the Michigan Supreme Court, Coleman emphasized, “I’m not running because I am a woman, I’m running because I have judicial experience.”3 Although she was always a lady, charming and full of grace, she was also a powerhouse of legal scholarship dedicated to judicial reform, especially as it related to children. Mary S. Coleman served as the Probate and Juvenile Judge of Calhoun County from 1961 to 1973. During this time, she developed a deep and abiding concern for the welfare and rehabilitation of juveniles. She served on numerous committees that drafted proposed legislation to reform the juvenile court system, such as the Child Abuse, Protective Services, and the Office of Youth Services statutes.
While on the Michigan Supreme Court, she served as the impetus for revamping the organization of the Michigan judicial system’s finances. Also, in 1980, Mary S. Coleman, a committed supporter of equal rights for women, called for a state constitutional amendment to add gender to the categories protected against discrimination.
Mary S. Coleman blazed a trail for women in the Michigan judicial system and left a shining example to guide the way for those who would follow in her steps.
1 Mary S. Coleman, Biography File. Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.
2 Mary S. Coleman, Biography File. Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.
3 Mary S. Coleman, Biography File. Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.