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Charles Washington Coleman (1862-1932), librarian and poet, was born in Richmond, Virginia on November 22, 1862 to Cynthia Beverley Tucker Washington Coleman (1832-1908) and Dr. Charles W. Coleman (1826-1894).

Coleman first appeared as a librarian at William & Mary in the 1893-94 catalog. He was responsible for reviving the Alpha chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 1893.  Coleman's time at William & Mary was brief, however, due to what Parke Rouse described as a "witch hunt" in his August 7, 1994 editorial in the Virginia Daily Press

"In 1898, when Richmond novelist Ellen Glasgow came to Williamsburg...she ran smack into a juicy scandal: A William & Mary librarian and students at the then-all-male college were thought to have engaged in homosexual activity...Involved in the scandal with James Branch Cabell and other members of the Kappa Alpha fraternity was Charles Washington Coleman, a bachelor who lived in the Tayloe House with his widowed mother (Cynthia Beverley Tucker Washington Coleman)...Overwrought by worry"... [Coleman]... "fell from a ladder in the college library, breaking his leg. He then foolishly fled Williamsburg to take a job in the Library of Congress in Washington. There he spent most of the rest of his life, a self-exiled Williamsburger of real literary talent." In her oral history, Coleman's niece,  Dr. Janet Haldane Coleman Kimbrough recounts this accident as injuring his leg, not his arm. "He was up on the gallery on a step-ladder up in the stacks and somehow or another he lost his balance and fell and crushed his arm very badly and for quite a while they thought they were going to have to amputate it...he could use it a little; very sitffly...But he was, oh, very sick and in a great deal of pain for a year or two there."

He died on April 29, 1932 in Washington DC, and is buried in Bruton Parish Churchyard, Williamsburg, VA.3

From the Report of the Librarian of Congress:

"It is with regret that we report the death on April 29, 1932 of Charles Washington Coleman after a service of 33 years in the reading room [@ the Library of Congress]. Mr. Coleman joined the staff July 1, 1899, as curator of the Toner collection after an association with William & Mary as librarian from 1893-1898. He was of distinguished Virginian ancestry, an alumnus of the University of Virginia, and a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

At the time of his death he was the assistant superintendent of the reading room and had had under his immediate charge for many years our interlibrary loan service...To his library duties Mr. Coleman brought a culture and a literary appreciation that has left a deep impression both upon the service of the library as a whole and individually upon those fortunate to be his associates. As an author of both verse and prose his contributions were welcomed by the more important literary and historical publications. And he was honored by beings selected as poet at important historical celebrations, notably the bicentennial of the college of William & Mary, 1893, and the two hundred and eighty-eighth anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown, 1895." 4

My tongue hath oft-times stammered bashful-wise
In they dear praise. I pray thee pardon me.
It strove to speak the language of thine eyes,
Which none may word but thee.

--Charles Washington Coleman

Material in the Special Collections Research Center

  • Charles Washington Coleman in SCRC Database
  • Charles Washington Coleman in SCRC Digital Archive
  • Coleman, Charles Washington. In His Own Country. 1942. Richmond: Privately printing of 300 copies by Whittet & Shepperson at the request of George P. Coleman and Elizabeth B. Coleman. The type was destroyed after printing. This is copy #157. Available in SCRC Rare Books (Call # PS3505 .O2777 I5)

Further Reading

Poetry by Charles Washington Coleman in Harper's Magazine 1889-1898.

  1. Ron Stewart, U. S. Find A Grave Index 1600s-Current, "Charles Washington Coleman" (1862-1932), Memorial #35699385, record added April 9, 2009, accessed through April 20, 2017,
  2. Library of Congress, Report of the Librarian of Congress, fiscal year ending June 30, 1932 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1932). Special Collections Research Center Faculty/Alumni File, Swem Library, William & Mary
  3. Charles Washington Coleman, "A Poet's Apology", Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, February 1891, p. 270. Special Collections Research Center Faculty/Alumni File, Swem Library, William & Mary


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A note about the contents of this site

This website contains the best available information from known sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information in this website is not complete, and it changes as we continue to research and uncover new sources.