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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Emma Coleman
(2012.201.B0139.0429, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).


Portrait and commercial photographer Emma Coleman operated the Norman Art Gallery in Norman, Oklahoma, from 1898 to 1918. Born in 1863 in Clarinda, Iowa, she was the first of eight children of Amanda and David White. Emma married Albert Elmer Coleman in Clarinda, and they had one daughter, who died in infancy. The Colemans and Emma's sister and brother-in-law (Rose Nell and Frank Myers) moved to Norman, Oklahoma Territory, soon after the Land Run of 1889. The Colemans established their home, a two-story, frame house, on East Symmes Street, and Albert and Frank opened the Coleman and Myers Harness Shop.

Emma Coleman moved beyond the domestic sphere and found a creative outlet in photography, a field of work considered acceptable for women and enjoyed by two of her Oklahoma contemporaries, Ada Garside and Annette Ross Hume. After working as a seamstress, Coleman opened the Norman Art Gallery at the northwest corner of Crawford and Comanche Streets, in close proximity to a livery and a horse and mule market. Without advertising she gained business by word-of-mouth and had work hours that fit around her domestic duties.

Natural light flooded into her small studio from a skylight and a row of windows along one wall. She used props typical of the Victorian era, including at least four backdrops, a wicker chair, a patterned carpet, and fringed drapes. She worked with four cameras, including an Eastman Empire Number 2 view camera mounted on a tripod. Her work included portraits of clients, friends, and family as well as group photographs of sports teams, bands, and Choctaws. Her commercial work included pictures of the Norman cottonseed oil mill and cotton gin, the University of Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma Sanitarium (Griffin Memorial Hospital).

Before her death on June 7, 1949, in Norman, she was a member and recorder of the Rebekah Lodge and a member of the Photographers' Association of Oklahoma.

Linda D. Wilson


Emma A. Coleman Papers, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma, Norman.

Emma A. Coleman Photoprints, 1889–1915, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma, Norman.

"Emma Coleman," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Fay P. Fairbrother, "Emma Alfreda White Coleman: Norman Pioneer, Photographer, and Businesswoman" (M.A. thesis, University of Oklahoma, 1993).

Norman (Oklahoma) Transcript, 7 June 1949.

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Linda D. Wilson, “Coleman, Emma Alfreda White,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=CO022.

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