Mary Channing Coleman was born on July 11, 1883 in the small community of Ware Neck, Virginia. She was from a prominent Virginia family, and was reportedly a decendent of Pocahontas as well as two signers of the Declaration of Independence. Coleman was educated by private tutors until she went to Virginia’s State Normal School for Women in Farmville (now Longwood University), where she received a diploma in 1900. She continued her education with degrees from Wellesley College (1910) and Columbia University (1917). She served as a professor of physical education at Winthrop College in South Carolina, assistant supervisor of physical education in the Detroit Public School System, professor of physical education at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, and instructor in physical education at Columbia University.
President Julius Foust himself recruited Coleman to North Carolina College for Women (now UNCG) from her position at Columbia. Foust was able to persuade her to come to NCCW as assistant to physical education director Fay Davenport. Davenport left in 1921, and Coleman was promoted to the role of head of the Department of Physical Education.
One of Coleman’s primary goals as department head was to build the facilities for physical education on campus. The first structure build was a 50 x 90-foot outdoor gymnasium. The structure consisted of little more than a floor and a roof supported by posts, but served as a dedicated space for physical education. Soon thereafter, Rosenthal Gymnasium was built (Rosenthal Gym is now part of the Coleman Building). Completed in 1925, Rosenthal contained a swimming pool, basketball court, and other amenities.
Responding in large part to a state legislature mandate that physical education be a required course in public schools, NCCW added to the curriculum a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education in 1923.
On October 1, 1947, Mary Channing Coleman taught her 8:00 am class, met with staff members in the Department of Physical Education, and left Rosenthal Gymnasium just before 11:00 am. While driving away from campus, Coleman suffered a heart attack, causing her car to crash into a five-ton gate pillar at the campus entrance on Spring Garden Street. She died soon after at Wesley Long Hospital in Greensboro.
On February 11, 1952, Coleman Gymnasium, designed by Loewenstein, Atkins & Associates of Greensboro, North Carolina, opened on the WC campus and was named in honor of Mary Channing Coleman (Coleman Gym is not incorporated into the Coleman Building).
On March 25, 2015, a re-dedication ceremony was held on UNCG’s campus to rename the former HHP Building in memory of Mary Channing Coleman.