Josephine Louise Le Monnier Newcomb
Josephine Newcomb founded the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College at Tulane University in 1886 to honor the memory of her beloved daughter, a victim of diphtheria.
“In pursuance of a long cherished design to establish an appropriate memorial” for her daughter, Josephine Louise Le Monnier Newcomb founded the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College in 1886. With an initial gift of $100,000 to the administrators of the Tulane Educational Fund, Mrs. Newcomb (as she always was called) established the first degree-granting coordinate college for women in the United States.
Josephine Louise Le Monnier was born on October 31, 1816, in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of Mary Sophia Waters and Alexander Le Monnier, a Frenchman who had settled in Baltimore. After her mother’s death in 1831, Josephine moved to New Orleans to live with her older sister, Eleanor Anne (Ellen), and brother-in-law, William Henderson. The family often summered in Louisville, Kentucky, where Josephine met Warren Newcomb, a prosperous partner in a wholesale grocery firm. They married in 1845 in New Orleans and shortly after moved to Louisville. A son, Warren, died soon after birth in 1853. A daughter, Harriott Sophie, was born two years later. Warren Newcomb Sr. died in 1866 at age 52, leaving an estate of approximately $650,000 to Josephine and Sophie Newcomb.
Sophie’s untimely death from diphtheria four years later nearly paralyzed Mrs. Newcomb with grief. She spent the next sixteen years in search of the “memorial that would enshrine [Sophie’s] memory in a manner best fitted to render useful and enduring benefit to humanity.” She made generous contributions to several charitable organizations in her daughter’s memory before deciding to fund the women’s college in the newly restructured Tulane University. Newcomb devoted her remaining years to anchoring Sophie’s memory in the naming of the college. She made frequent visits to the College and in 1899, bought a home nearby. She died April 7, 1901, at the home of a friend in New York.
During her lifetime, and on her death, Newcomb gave more than 3.6 million dollars to benefit Newcomb College, a sum much larger than that given by Paul Tulane. Family greed and possible misunderstandings, however, led to a protracted legal challenge to Newcomb’s will, waged by her sister and her sister’s four children. The challenge was denied by the courts in 1909, and Mrs. Newcomb’s full legacy was granted to the Administrators of the Tulane Educational Fund as her universal legatee for use in “the present and future development” of the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College.
In 2006, Mrs. Newcomb’s will again became the center of a legal battle. Prompted by the devastation to Tulane University caused by Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaks of August 2005, the Administrators of the Tulane Educational Fund closed Newcomb College, as well as Paul Tulane College (the liberal arts and sciences college for men), and united the two as Newcomb-Tulane College. The Board also created the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College Institute and dedicated Newcomb’s endowed funds to this enterprise. An alumnae group, “The Future of Newcomb College,” organized a challenge to the board’s decision, arguing that the closing violated the terms of Mrs. Newcomb’s will that her fortune be used solely to maintain Newcomb College as a separate women’s college within Tulane University. A five-year legal battle to prevent Tulane University from closing the Newcomb College ended February 18, 2011, when the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling upholding Tulane’s closure of the college. The Institute’s official name today is the Newcomb College Institute of Tulane University.