Presidents of Reed

coleman image

Norman Frank Coleman



Born on March 9, 1874, in Ontario, Canada
Died on August 11, 1960, in Portland, Oregon

Norman F. Coleman became the third president of Reed College in 1925. One of the first faculty members in the English department at Reed (1912-1920), Coleman had also served on the welfare committee of the Board of Trustees (1919-1920), and for a brief time in 1920 had been a member of the administrative committee, created to help run the day-to-day operations of the college between the tenures of presidents Foster and Scholz (1919-1921).

“When I was only a member-elect,” said Coleman, “I wrote a letter to President Foster expressing the satisfaction I took in the prospect of becoming one of the ‘comrades of the quest.’” His early use of the phrase, coined by Foster in a 1917 New York Times article, encouraged further adoption of it in the Reed community; it is the phrase from which the Reed College Quest derives its name.

Born in Canada, Coleman earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto in 1900. He went on to teach high school in Spokane, Washington, until 1905, and then attended Harvard, where he earned a master’s in 1906. While teaching at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, Coleman’s attraction to “the exchange of ideas, with formation of opinion by co-operative study,” led him to become one of the first faculty members at Reed.

Keeping in mind the “quest for greater freedom and closer fellowship in search for the truth,” Coleman contributed to the writing of Reed’s faculty constitution. Unlike many other college constitutions, Reed’s secures the faculty’s academic freedom and offers faculty a democratic voice in the overall administration of the college.

After serving as a member of the administrative committee, Coleman left Reed to serve as president of the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen from 1920 to 1925. After President Scholz’s death, Coleman was asked to return to Reed as president. Calling upon Scholz’s ideals, Coleman oversaw the completion of the $450,000 endowment. During this time, the college library was built.

Following his tenure as Reed’s president, Coleman continued teaching in Reed’s English department until his retirement in 1939. He later taught at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Spellman College in Atlanta, Georgia.

His other leadership roles within the Portland community included presidencies of the Oregon Social Hygiene Society (1918, 1921–23), the Portland Americanization Council (1923–24), and the Japan Society of Portland.

Throughout his life, Coleman was a dedicated world traveler and spokesman for peace, leading a group of 15 students to Japan in 1924 and traveling extensively with his wife, Ethel May.