Who Was Kathleen “Kit” Coleman, and Why Does She Feature on Two Commemorative Coins in 2023?
Kathleen Blake Coleman, also known professionally as Kit Coleman, was a pioneer in Canadian journalism: the first syndicated woman columnist in Canada, the first accredited female war correspondent in North America, and the first president of the Canadian Women’s Press Club, which she helped establish. In 2023, she features on two new coins, a silver dollar and a $100 gold coin from the Royal Canadian Mint in honour of her perseverance in the face of challenge and her contributions to Canadian history.
Over the course of her life and journalistic career, Kathleen Blake Coleman went by many names. She was born Catherine Ferguson in Ireland in 1856. Her parents arranged a marriage for her to wealthy landowner Thomas Willis. It was not a happy marriage, and she moved to Canada following her husband’s death, styling herself Kathleen Willis. She soon married a Canadian named Edward Watkins, with whom she had two children, but his infidelity eventually caused them to separate.
Having adopted the middle name of Blake to solidify her Irish ties, she started writing to support herself and her children, becoming women’s editor of the Toronto Daily Mail in 1889. Following her third marriage, she became Kathleen Blake Coleman.
Coleman wrote a weekly column known as Woman’s Kingdom that covered topics related to fashion, housekeeping, and advice. Her restless spirit demanded more, so she travelled at every possible opportunity and published colourful accounts of her journeys under the name of Kit Coleman, a pseudonym specifically designed to keep readers in the dark about her true identity and gender. For example, when Queen Victoria had her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, Coleman travelled to London to cover it.
When the Spanish-American War broke out, Coleman received permission to travel with American troops in Cuba, becoming the first accredited female war correspondent. Unfortunately, due to interference from the military and her fellow reporters, she didn’t make it to Cuba until after the main battles were over, but she became internationally famous for the heartrending accounts of what she found when she arrived.
The Silver Coin
The design of the silver coin shows a vintage typewriter, representing Coleman’s career in journalism, and a portrait of Coleman herself in silhouette with a notebook and pen in hand. Within the silhouette are images representing Coleman’s life story, including her trip across the North Atlantic to emigrate to Canada from Ireland and her job at the Toronto Daily Mail.
The Gold Coin
The gold coin pictures Coleman hard at work writing and researching an early draft of an article. This image is also included in miniature on the silver coin as one representing one of the many phases in Coleman’s life. In the background is a map representing her many travels over the course of her career, including Ireland to Canada, Canada to London, Canada to Florida, where she was initially stranded when trying to report on the Spanish-American War, as well as Canada to Cuba.
Both coins were designed by Canadian artist Pandora Young. Young is no stranger to working with the Royal Canadian Mint as she has contributed designs to multiple commemorative coins in the past. Many of these are remembrances of World War I, such as the Battle of Passchendaele, the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and the Angel of Victory to represent the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I in 1918. Young also designed the 2017 Zodiac series of commemorative coins and the 2018 Birthstone series. Both of these designs included Swarovski crystals and colourization.
Either coin would make an excellent gift for anyone interested in coin collecting, Canadian pioneers, and early feminism. Share Coleman’s remarkable story with someone close to you.