Michigan Legal Milestones
28. Mary Coleman: Pioneer, Advocate, Woman

Mary Coleman, the first female Michigan Supreme Court justice and chief justice, made a lasting impact on Michigan's judicial system. Her success in the profession, her devotion to juvenile justice issues, and her work on the advancement of court reorganization are just a few examples of this remarkable woman's accomplishments. Dedicated October 20, 2000, at the McCamly Plaza Hotel in Battle Creek. The permanent plaque is displayed at the Battle Creek courthouse.

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Complete Text on Milestone Marker

Mary Coleman: Pioneer, Advocate, Woman

Mary Coleman's life and career have made a lasting impact on Michigan's judicial system. Her success in the profession, her devotion to juvenile justice issues, and her work on the advancement of court reorganization are just a few examples of this remarkable woman's accomplishments.

In 1972, Mary became the first woman to serve as a member of the Michigan Supreme Court. In 1979, she was the first woman elected by her peers on Michigan's highest court to serve as its chief justice, a position to which she was re-elected for another two-year term.

Born Mary Stallings in Forney, Texas in 1914, Mary's parents, who met and married while attending the University of Texas, provided Mary with her first exposure to the legal profession. When Mary was four years old, the family moved to Washington, D.C. where her father worked in a law office while her mother worked as a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Mary graduated from the University of Maryland in 1934 and obtained her law degree in 1939 from George Washington University. She worked full time in a government office while attending law school to support herself and pay for her education.

In 1939, she married Creighton Coleman and eventually moved to Battle Creek, Michigan where she practiced law and the couple raised their two daughters.

In 1960, after serving as a juvenile court referee, Mary was elected as a probate and juvenile judge in Calhoun County. She assisted in drafting many of the initial child abuse laws in this state as well as laws related to protective services. Mary's court was known as an innovative court, creating various juvenile programs that focused on preventative measures and education in juvenile homes. She was the first chair of the State Bar of Michigan Committee on Juvenile Affairs and served as president of the Probate and Juvenile Court Judges Association.

In 1979, Mary led the reorganization and state financing efforts of Wayne County and Detroit courts. "The interesting part to me was that everybody said reorganization couldn't be done," Mary said. "I asked all the presiding judges to meet me in my office with their court administrators in Lansing on a certain morning, and revealed to them what my concept was and what should be done." Mary proved that indeed, it could be done.

Mary Coleman: pioneer, advocate, woman—legend.

Placed by the State Bar of Michigan and the Calhoun County Bar Association, 2000.