Newcomb, Josephine L. (1816–1901)

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Newcomb, Josephine L. (1816–1901)

American philanthropist. Name variations: Josephine Le Monnier Newcomb. Born Josephine Louise Le Monnier on October 31, 1816, in Baltimore, Maryland; died on April 7, 1901, in New York City; daughter of Alexander Le Monnier and Mary Sophia (Waters) Le Monnier; educated primarily in Europe; married Warren Newcomb (a merchant), in 1845; children: son (died young); H(arriott) Sophie Newcomb (1855–1870).

Established, through $100,000 donation, H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College for women at Tulane University, New Orleans (1887).

Josephine Newcomb was born into a well-to-do Baltimore family in 1816. Because her father, wealthy businessman and Parisian native Alexander Le Monnier, believed his three children should go abroad for their education, as a girl Newcomb traveled throughout Europe and the Near East. Shortly after her return to the United States in 1831, her mother Mary Sophia Le Monnier died and Alexander Le Monnier's fortune was lost. The family subsequently lived with Newcomb's married sister in New Orleans, Louisiana, and on a summer trip she met prosperous young wholesaler Warren Newcomb. They were married in December 1845, after which they lived in New Orleans, Louisville, Kentucky, and New York City. The couple lost their first child, a son, while he was still an infant; their second child, H. Sophie Newcomb , was born in 1855.

Intent on providing their daughter with the best nurturing and education they could, Warren Newcomb retired in 1863 so that he could take his family to Europe. Three years later, he died, leaving Josephine and Sophie a fortune. Though Newcomb turned her attentions to her child, Sophie contracted diphtheria in 1870 and died, at age 15. Newcomb was so distraught that for some years friends were afraid she might lose her sanity. She eventually recovered from her grief, and from 1877 to 1882 set about developing her inheritance and looking for the perfect memorial to her beloved Sophie. She assumed a modest lifestyle in New York City, exercising her considerable business skills and increasing her wealth while she considered possible memorial projects.

In 1882, Josephine Newcomb donated sizable sums to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, and to the Confederate Orphan Home in Charleston, South Carolina. She gave funds to help establish schools for poor girls and for the deaf, and made other donations, but was not satisfied that these were the right remembrancers for her daughter. When in 1886 a longtime friend suggested that she establish a women's college at the new Tulane University in New Orleans, Newcomb finally found the perfect memorial. She gave $100,000 to Tulane, and in 1887 the university opened the first independent women's college attached to a men's college in America, the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College for women. Although she left most of the administration to the university, Newcomb did stipulate that the college commemorate Sophie's birth and death with Episcopalian services, and occasionally tried the patience of administrators when she decided to personally oversee college business.

Pleased with the college's progress over the years, Josephine Newcomb continued to support it with donations. A reserved but sometimes witty woman with simple tastes in clothes, she died at a friend's home in New York City in 1901. Her lifetime donations to her daughter's memorial—including her entire estate, which was left to Newcomb College—totaled $3,600,000.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Jacquie Maurice , freelance writer, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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Newcomb, Josephine L. (1816–1901)

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