Josephine Newcomb, Forward-thinking Philanthropist

Josephine Louise Lo Monnier was born on Halloween, 1816, in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father was a wealthy businessman and she was educated mostly in France. However, the family’s fortune declined after the death of her mother in 1831. She ended up living in New Orleans where her older sister settled after marriage.

It was there that she met Warren Newcomb, a successful Louisville, Kentucky, wholesale grocer who often traveled to New Orleans on business. The couple wed on December 15, 1845, at Christ Church Cathedral. A son, Warren, Jr., was born in Louisville in 1853 but died shortly after birth.

By 1855, the couple was living in New York City. It is here that a daughter, Harriott Sophie was born. The couple soon returned to Louisville to live. When Warren retired in 1862, the family returned to New York City. Warren died there on August 26, 1866.

After Warren’s death, Josephine and Harriott became inseparable. Unfortunately, Sophie died of diphtheria in 1870, at the tender age of 15. This started Josephine on a quest to memorialize two of the people she loved the most through philanthropy.

Josephine was a frugal woman who managed her assets carefully. She built her assets and at the encouragement of a New Orleans friend, she considered establishing a college for women through Tulane University, which was in its infancy. She ultimately donated $100,000 seed money to establish the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College at Tulane. The gift was accepted in 1886 and the school opened in the fall of 1887 in a house on Howard Avenue.

The college was the “nation’s first degree-granting coordinate college for women.” (Coyle and Tucker) The school helped to bring women out of Victorian parlors and into the workplace for the first time. The school outgrew its space by 1889. Once again Josephine Newcomb stepped forward to help. She donated the money necessary to purchase the Burnside house and three acres of land on Washington Avenue.

The crown jewel of the college is the pottery its students produced. Here is an excerpt from the Smithsonian Institution website.

In 1895, the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, Tulane University’s women’s coordinate college, established the Newcomb Pottery in New Orleans, and conceived it as part artist collective, part social experiment, and part business enterprise initiative under the auspices of an educational program. The art school faculty incorporated the philosophies and tenets of the English Arts and Crafts movement into their curriculum to teach Southern women self-reliance by way of an education and gain financial independence through the sale of their wares. The Pottery thrived until 1940. (The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise)

Newcomb College Pottery

Newcomb Pottery Plate

Josephine Newcomb died on April 7, 1901, in New York City, after a short illness that prevented her from returning to New Orleans previous winter. She is buried alongside her family in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. She donated a lot of funds to the school during her life and left the bulk of her estate to it. After a lengthy contest over the will, the school received a final donation of approximately $2.5 million in 1911.

The college remained part of Tulane University until Hurricane Katrina destroyed the campus in 2005. Today, the Newcomb College Institue of Tulane University oversees more than $40 million in endowed funds. Josephine’s desire that there be a place that “would go on year by year doing good” (Coyle and Tucker) continues.

Look like an 1890s college student in our Mira Victorian Blouse paired with one of our Victorian skirts!

–  Donna Klein

Credits and Resources

Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service – Women, Art, and Social Change: The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise.Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service – Women, Art, and Social Change: The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 July 2016.

Tucker, Georgen, and Susan Tucker. “Tulane University – NCI History of Newcomb College.” Tulane University – NCI History of Newcomb College. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 July 2016.

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