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Coleman family photograph collection

Identifier: P019

Scope and Contents

This collection includes black-and-white photographs and a couple postcards and dinner menus from the Coleman family taken in Indianapolis, Indiana, New York, California and other parts of the United States; Paris, France; Japan; United Kingdom; and Chile ranging from 1876 to 1935 and undated regarding family life and travel. Many of the photographs are individual portraits of unidentified family members and friends, while others are snapshots of the Colemans and others on vacation and going about their daily lives. There are also a handful of photographs of buildings, such as hotels, and historic sites, including the interior of Burns Cottage, the first home of poet Robert Burns in Ayr, Scotland, United Kingdom. The menus are from the March 30, 1892 "Nobscussett Dinner" hosted by the Coffins and attended by many prominent Indianapolis people, including the Colemans.


  • 1803-1935, undated


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Legal title, copyright, and literary rights reside with Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, IN. All requests to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Biographical Note

Sallie Emma Downing Coleman was born to Michael A. and Susan Lee (Duncan) Downing on January 13, 1860 in Louisville, Kentucky. Her father, Colonel Downing, made money in Denver, Colorado in the cable car industry and later moved to Indianapolis, Indiana where he served as the police commissioner. Sallie Downing married John H. Vajen, Jr. on June 1, 1881 and they had a daughter, Suemma (1883-1924).

When Vajen died, Sallie Downing Vajen married William Henry Coleman (ca. 1848-1946) on May 22, 1889 in Marion County, Indiana. Coleman was born to Richard and Mary (Clark) Coleman in Pennsylviania and later lived in New York. He moved to Indianapolis in 1880 where he owned his own lumber factories, having worked for a lumber merchant in New York. He also had factories in Terre Haute, Indiana and Tennessee. Coleman also made oil barrels for the Standard Oil Company. He adopted Suemma Vajen, who became known as Suemma Coleman or Vajen-Coleman, and established the Suemma Coleman Home for Unwed Mothers in 1894. Suemma Vajen Coleman (1883-1924) married William Avery Atkins on November 27, 1907 and they had a son, William Coleman Atkins (1911-1937). She, along with her second child, died in childbirth at age 40 on April 24, 1924 and her parents donated funds for the erection of the William Coleman Hospital for Women in memorial.

Beginning in the 1890s, William and Sallie Coleman lived at 1006 North Meridian Street in Indianapolis. The family were generous philanthropists who supported many causes, including hospitals and libraries at Butler and Yale universities. Sallie Coleman personally volunteered for the American Red Cross and the Indianapolis Flower Mission and served as treasurer of the Board of Lady Managers of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis World's Fair) in 1904. She died on August 30, 1947 and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Sources: "Sallie E. Downing." 1880 United States Federal Census. Accessed May 10, 2021. "Sallie E. Coleman." Indiana, U.S., Death Certificates, 1899-2011. Accessed May 10, 2021. "Sallie Vajen or Downing." Indiana, U.S., Select Marriages Index, 1748-1993. Accessed May 10, 2021. "Sallie E. Downing." Indiana, U.S., Marriage Index, 1800-1941. Accessed May 10, 2021. "Sallie E. Downing Coleman." Find a Grave Memorial. Accessed May 10, 2021.

Harter, Chris. "Sallie E. Coleman scrapbook, 1922-1950." Finding aid. Indiana Historical Society. Created May 13, 1997. Accessed May 10, 2021.

Thompson, Donald Eugene. "Atkins, Suemma Valjen (Mrs. William A.): 1883-1924." In Indiana Authors and Their Books, 1917-1966, p. 688. Crawfordsville, IN: Wabash College, 1974. Accessed May 17, 2021.


0.6 Cubic Feet (2 manuscript boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection is arranged by subject, then chronologically and geographically.

Custodial History

This collection was received by Rare Books and Manuscripts as a donation.


No further additions are expected.

Related Materials

Materials relating to this collection may be found in the following collections in Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, IN:

S1885: Sallie E. Coleman collection

Processing Information

Collection processing and finding aid completed 2006 February by Julie A. Reid. Collection reprocessed 2021/05/24 by Brittany Kropf. EAD finding aid revised 2021/05/24 by Brittany Kropf.
Coleman family photograph collection
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

140 North Senate Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204 U.S.A.