Katharine Ellis Coman

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Born in Newark in 1857, Katharine Coman would devote her life to education and scholarship, becoming a professor and dean at Wellesley College near Boston. A leading economist and historian of her day, Katharine wrote numerous books and articles on economics and history. Coman also had a close and intimate relationship with Katherine Lee Bates, also a professor at Wellesley and a renowned American poet of the day, best known for "America the Beautiful."

Katharine Coman's approach to instruction in the 1890s feels more at home in a modern academic setting; she encouraged her students, all women, to engage their world to learn about politics, history, and economics. Classroom instruction blended with life experience and Professor Coman claimed in 1893 that "We make Boston our laboratory in our work in this department. We can see there all the great industrial experiments being performed on a very grand scale, and it is none the less interesting that in the issue real human lives are concerned, and that actual human well-being and happiness are at stake." [1] After serving as the Head of the Economics department, Coman became Dean of Wellesley College and oversaw students' academic achievement. [2]

Coman began suffering from the effects of a prolonged fight with breast cancer in the second half of the first decade of the 20th century. Poor health forced her to take a leave of absence from Wellesley, though she kept up her research and writing even as her health deteriorated. Coman's final struggle with the illness was recorded by Katharine Bates in a letter to her family, which was not published until many years after her death.

Wellesley College established a professorship, the Katharine Coman Professorship of Industrial History, in her honor in 1921. [3] She is remembered today as a leading light in her field, as well as an instrumental figure in the growth of female scholars in academia, mentoring a generation of female Ph.Ds.

Bates memorialized Coman's premature death to breast cancer in 1915 with a poem titled "Cedar Hill," which recalls her mournful visit to Coman's grave at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Newark. The poem, and the collection, is a powerful ode to their long-term and loving relationship. [4]



  1. "Learning to be Statesmen," The Newark Daily Advocate, Sep. 24, 1893, 28
  2. "Change at Wellesley," Boston Daily Globe, Sep. 21, 1899, 5
  3. Vaughn, G.,, "Katharine Coman: America's First Woman Institutional Economist and a Champion of Education for Citizenship," Journal of Economic Issues, No. 4, Dec. 2004, 1001
  4. Bates, K., "Cedar Hill," Yellow Clover: A Book of Remembrance, (1922) https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moa/abv4832.0001.001/5?page=root;rgn=full+text;size=100;view=image