Gentlemen: In pursuance of a long cherished design to establish an appropriate and lasting memorial of my beloved Daughter, H. Sophie Newcomb, deceased...I hereby donate to your Board the sum of $100,000, to be used in establishing the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, in the Tulane University of Louisiana, for the higher education of white girls and young women. ...I further request that the education given shall look to the practical side of life as well as to literary excellence..."
ith these words from a letter of October 11, 1886, Josephine Louise Newcomb wrote to the Administrators of the Tulane University Educational Fund of her desire to establish a college in her daughter's name. The late 1800s was particularly significant in the history of the education of women, filled with the beginnings of many other women's colleges. These new colleges offered to women a great deal of variation in educational opportunities. Women attending these early colleges were more likely to come away from college with an education well suited for an active and successful life, more prepared for gainful employment than in any other period in the history of women's education until the late 1970s. Whereas not much is really known of Josephine Louise Newcomb's interests in other programs, one can deduce from her initial instructions to the Tulane University Board that she shared the spirit of her times and indeed became one of those persons instrumental in establishing opportunites for young women. Her initial gift of $100,000 was followed by other donations until a total of 3 million dollars was given. These funds assured Newcomb College a secure economic foundation for its early years. Indeed, Newcomb's gift made the College made the College the most secure of all Southern women's colleges.
Newcomb's donation brought about an unusual arrangement for the education of women, with the creation of the first degree-granting college for women to be founded within a university in America. This model was later adopted by several colleges, including Barnard College of Columbia University and Pembroke College of Brown University.
The idea of a coordinate college for women was first suggested to Newcomb by Ida Richardson, a woman with an interest in progressive politics and the wife of a Tulane University board member. The plan for the women's coordinate college provided for a separate president and faculty who were given power to determine policy and the course of study for Newcomb students. Newcomb's specifications for the College made available to young women the same opportunity for a liberal education as was being offered to young men through Tulane's College of Arts and Sciences and, at the same time, provided an environment in which men and women did not attend classes together.
n conservative New Orleans, as well as in many other parts of the United States, the separation of the sexes was seen as one of the main reasons for the coordinate college. William Johnston, President of Tulane at that time, and Ida Richardson were convinced that New Orleans would accept the education of women at Tulane only if the girls and women did not intrude upon the studies of boys and men.
Johnston and Richardson, however, were also advocates of New Orleans' readiness for the higher education of women within Tulane. The Louisiana Cotton Exposition, held in New Orleans in 1884, brought prominent suffrage workers Susan B. Anthony and Julia Ward Howe to the city. They urged New Orleans women to produce handcrafted artifacts to support themselves. Upon this advice, William and Ellsworth Woodward, Professors of Art at Tulane University and Tulane High School, organized free art classes at the Exposition. So popular were these classes, the Woodwards afterwards opened the Ladies Decorative Art League and the New Orleans Art Pottery to the community. Many of these women students joined the art classes at Newcomb when the Woodwards were later employed to organize the art department there.
For the position of President of the College, the Tulane Board recruited Brandt V.B. Dixon (pictured at left). Dixon was not so sure the College would succeed and only reluctantly accepted the position. He felt that the city had few young women adequately prepared for college. He also felt that the University would not give him the freedom to establish the type of school he desired, nor the economic base to run such an institution. Ultimately, he was persuaded to come to New Orleans on the condition that the trustees would allow him to admit only those students prepared for college work and not assign him responsibilty for the instituion's financial standing.
Dixon remained as Newcomb's President until 1919. However, as he had anticipated, students were not well-prepared for college level work. While entrance requirements to the better colleges for men (and increasingly to women's colleges in the Northeast) required grounding in classical languages and a background in mathematics, English literature, grammar, and history, the students being sent by their parents to enroll in Newcomb College were often 13 and 14 years old, with little academic preparation. Obviously, many parents felt that Newcomb was to be a "finishing school" or "ladies' college," a conception that Dixon was determined to fight. Rather than alienate the community or turn away those eager students, a preparatory program was established. The Newcomb High School was to operate from 1888 to 1920 and allowed Newcomb Colege a steady stream of qualified and loyal applicants.
During Dixon's tenure, Newcomb flourished and grew. The first campus was a single building on Camp Street at Delord (now Howard Avenue). There Dixon assembled a small faculty, some of whom remained for many years, to teach 59 academic students and 91 art students. With the dedication of the faculty and students, the College was a success; such a success, in fact, that it soon outgrew its campus. Josephine Louise Newcomb then funded the remodeling of the Robb-Burnside Mansion, a grandiose Italianate villa on Washington Avenue for the new campus. In January 1891, Newcomb began classes at the Washington Avenue Campus. In the heart of the fashionable Garden District, the new campus was a beautiful setting. With stately live oak trees lining the campus, a romantic fountain, and well-tended grounds cared for by a much loved gardener, the campus resembled the isolated academies and convents that served day students in other Southern cities. Located some three miles from the Uptown Campus where boys and young men attended undergraduate classes, the Washington Avenue Campus had little contact with the University. Soon, other buildings nearby Washington Avenue were pruchased, and the campus was expanded to include a small wooden chapel, a dormitory, a pottery building, and a music building.
The College flourished academically during this period, gaining a great deal of regional respect. Dixon, with the help of the alumnae, began to more earnestly recruit both faculty and boarding students. Academic standards rose and enrollment grew. By 1916, Newcomb had become one of seven Southern schools which held a standard college designation within the Southern Association of College Women.
wo departments particularly distinguished themselves. One of these was the Department of Physical Education. Its first chair, Clara Baer, is considered one of the early pioneers of the physical health movement. In 1895, she published "Basketball Rules for Women and Girls," in which she described two shots, the one-handed and the jump shot, that were not adopted in men's basketball until 1936. She also invented a marketed a game called "Newcomb Ball" and became an advocate in securing employment for Newcomb graduates in local schools. Clara Baer and later Florence Smith, another Physical Education faculty member, inaugurated many new policies. Field Days, class teams, gymnastic classes, rope climbing -- all these brought Newcomb attention within the New Orleans community and prestige among women's colleges.
But perhaps even more noteworthy was the introduction and success of the Newcomb Pottery business, an enterprise which grew out of the early influence of Howe and the art classes of the Woodward brothers. Ellsworth Woodward, the Director of Art Instruction, particulary encouraged the creation of the Pottery because he felt that the program would serve more than aesthetic purposes by enabling students and graduates to learn a skill with income producing potential. Woodward's idea had an overwhelming appeal to Dixon as well as to the New Orleans students and the New Orleans community. As in the Northeast and other parts of the United States, the students who came to the women's college of Newcomb were, for the most part, the daughters of some of the more privileged families in New Orleans. The families sought for their daughters the privilege of education in order to enhance their chances of making a good marriage, and if not, of supporting themselves. In post Civil War New Orleans, however, families were acutely aware of the lack of money. Therefore, New Orleans families had a somewhat greater desire to find a useful education for their daughters than did parents elsewhere.
Josephine Louise Newcomb's original donation specifying education that looked to the "practical side of life" also favored the development of an "industrial" art program. The Newcomb Pottery was an experiment, or model industry, to provide employment for women at a time and in a milieu where few opportunities existed.
Dixon hired Mary Given Sheerer, who was associated with the Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati, to begin this venture. While the Pottery employed relatively few women, it nevertheless opened the possibility of economic independence to some, and established to international reputation of "Newcomb Art School," as it was referred to from 1910 to 1945. Over 70,000 pieces of pottery were produced before the Pottery closed in 1939. The art program also was enlarged in these years to include many other arts and crafts. Examples can be found of illustrated bookplates; jewelry; embroidery; and hand-bound books, often with embossed leather covers and elaborate clasps -- all of which were crafted and sold by Newcomb students and alumnae such as the woman pictured at left.
While these early curricular developments made Newcomb an institution that distinguished itself among Southern women's colleges, its location in the city of New Orleans also made Newcomb unique amoung its counterparts. Because the urban environment provided a large body of potential students, the majority of Newcomb students were day students from New Orleans. In fact, Newcomb did not have a dormitory until 1895, in contrast to most women's colleges of that era which often enrolled only boarding students. Furthermore, Newcomb differed by having a more diverse student body than other women's colleges. The large number of scholarships offered to local girls insured that students came from a wider variety of economic backgrounds. Diversity in religious orientation was provided by the large Catholic and Jewish populations of New Orleans. These factors, along with the lack of a particular religious affiliation, the College's early association with the progressive movement, and the unusual labor of the women associated with the Pottery resulted in an atmosphere that was less stringently filled with rules and regulations, and more open to the possibilities of women's varied lives.
These very characteristics that made Newcomb different from other Southern women's colleges also acted against the early growth of the college. Because the majority of Newcomb students were not boarders, they returned daily to their families. The creation of a cohesive group of students, separate from their parents and from the city, therefore, was slower in coming to Newcomb. Also, the conservatism of New Orleans affected the overall acceptance of the higher education of women. Many people feared the results of education for women. Would these women remain fit for motherhood? Would their studies cause mental or physical illnesses? These questions are typical of those asked about women in colleges in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. To soothe these fears, Newcomb faculty, administrators, alumnae, and students emphasized education's enhancement of the students' fitness for becoming wives and mothers. The goal of graduating women who involved themselves in services to churches, the community, and only sometimes careers became paramount. As a group, Newcomb students were politically conservative. Dixon, faculty, staff, as well as students and alumnae advocated lives built upon gentility and only most cautiously, ideas such as suffrage and political change.
evertheless, when Newcomb moved to its Broadway campus in 1918, it emerged as a leader among Southern women's colleges, with a student body that considered itself more serious and sophisticated than students at other schools such as Agnes Scott, Randolph-Macon, and Sweet Briar. The move to the Broadway campus brought Newcomb a larger dormitory with a resident Counselor to Women, increased academic rigor, and for the first time, full access to a collegiate life, both socially and academically. The Broadway campus was located adjacent to Tulane, and more joint activities with male students began to take place. Sororities and other student clubs began to acquire permanent places on campus for their meetings. The times themselves engendered a new spirit of independence and modernity; women served in World War I, hemlines were shortened, hair was bobbed. And yet, there was a pointed attempt to retain the idea of continuity with the old Newcomb.
Acorns from the original oak trees of the Washington Avenue campus were transplanted to the new campus, traditions such as class ring ceremonies, the wearing of caps and gowns, Field Days and other rituals were continued.
The move to Broadway, however, also symbolized less independence for Newcomb within the University. Newcomb was to feel an increasing acceptance of the Tulane "umbrella." Dixon was to be Newcomb's only "President" and his successor in 1919, Pierce Butler, was named "Dean." Butler inherited a rich and successful College but also one which suffered through the Depression and one which necessarily merged more with the University. Some coeducational activites were viewed as opportunities by the Newcomb students, faculty, and administrators, including the opportunites for advanced study, coeducational activities such as Glee club and plays, and access to a bigger library. However, Butler fought against some of these coeducational ventures and was known for being quite vocal in his defense of Newcomb's separate status. He also worked very hard to see that Newcomb maintained its status as a first-rate institution, often discouraging the development of programs he considered frivolous, such as the Newcomb Nursery School which did not become formally recognized as a part of Newcomb until 1946.
nder Butler's leadership, the college continued to grow with the addition of two new dormitories, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, and an auditorium. Butler also concentrated on the strength of the liberal arts and siences, phased out programs in domestic science and education, and began courses in such new subjects as psychology.
Frederick G. Hard (1938-1943) and later Logan Wilson (1943-1951) succeeded Butler. In these years, further developments cemented Newcomb's place in both the community and the University. The coverage of Newcomb in the Times-Picayune and the Item, New Orleans's local newspapers, kept the eye of the city on Newcomb sports, parties, prizes, and sometimes, education. Newcomb in these days had its own correspondent to the papers, who was admonished to provide readers with "More news and less Newcomb."
orld War II changed all American society and Newcomb was certainly no exception. Married women were no longer classified as "special students," but were considered full students. With men gone to war, Newcomb students gained more places in Tulane publications and extracurricular activiites. The Newcomb Library, the Howard Library, and the Tilton Library were also merged during these years into a building that was located on the Newcomb side of the campus.
When the war was over, Newcomb students did not easily relinquish their gains. Both men and women students began to move freely between the Newcomb and Tulane campuses. Increasingly, juniors and seniors from Newcomb and the Tulane College of Arts and Sciences were allowed to take courses together. By 1970, all students were offered the option of coeducational classes.
During this time, Newcomb raised its standards, implemented new programs, increased enrollment, and required College Entrance board exams for the first time.
Programs such as the Newcomb Junior Year Aboard (established in 1954-55), interdisciplinary colloquia, and well as Tulane's growing graduate program, made the coordinate college of Newcomb a place with appeal to students from all over the U.S. Thus, Acting Dean Anna Many (1951-53) and Dean Jack Hubbard (1953-65) oversaw an increasingly diverse student body. Whereas in the early days, most of the students came from New Orleans and Louisiana, by 1960, a full 73% of the student body was from outside Louisiana.
A Southern school, Newcomb in 1960 still did not admit African-American women. One of the most significant changes in the year to come, therefore, would be the desegregation of Tulane. While the original endowments from the founders of both Tulane and Newcomb specified the provision of educational opportunities to "white" students, this obviously racist limitation was broken in 1963. After a long court battle, Tulane was requested to "voluntarily" desegregate. Since a refusal to do so would only have resulted in more legal battles, and since the Tulane College of Arts and Sciences and the Newcomb College faculties had both unanimously voted to support desegregation in 1962, Tulane opened its doors to eleven black students in February 1963. In the following fall semester, Newcomb admitted its first black student.
During these years, Tulane and Newcomb students also responded to other changes in society and the political climate of the times. Deans Charles Hounshell (1966-69), James F. Davidson (1969-76), and Acting Deans Francis Lawrence (1976-78) and William Smither (1978-79) saw Newcomb students protest the incursion of American armed forces into Cambodia and the killing of four student demonstrators at Kent State. Students also agitated for other concerns that would not have been thought possible in years past: coeducational housing, the elimination of curfews, the need for increased safety in an urban environment.
Another important force of that era, the women's movement, also brought more varied campus opportunities and fields of study to Newcomb students. Varsity athletics and Title IX funds brought nine athletic scholarships to Newcomb in 1976. Newcomb students became involved in courses designed to increase their entrance into such male-dominated fields as medicine, law, and politics. For the first time, large numbers of Newcomb students saw a variety of career paths open to them. In 1975, responding to the wishes of Newcomb alumnae and students, the Women's Center was established to provide career counseling and support to Newcomb students and other women on campus. The Center developed as the research arm of the College, promoting research into the lives of women, particulary Newcomb alumnae, faculty, and staff. Renamed the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women in 1985, the Center now guides the Women's Studies Programs, sponsors many programs concerning women's issues for faculty as well as students, and maintains a library and the Newcomb Archives.
During the sixties, seventies, and into the eighties, the College of Arts and Sciences and Newcomb continued their gradual consolidation without inciting much protest. Student organizations and activites contributed to a closer relationship between the students and faculties of the two undergraduate colleges. Thus, neither students nor alumnae voiced much protest when most academic departments in both Newcomb and College of Arts and Sciences were unified under one chairship by 1969. Student life began to be administrated from centralized offices on the university level, as responsibilty for resident life was moved from the deans of the liberal arts colleges, and a single curriculum for Newcomb and the College of Arts and Sciences was adopted in 1979.
Gradually, however, many people became alarmed at the increasing merger of the two colleges. Newcomb alumnae were particularly concerned that the old newcomb, the symbol of Newcomb's past, was being lost. many students and faculty began to speak out for the selection of a woman as a permanent dean. (The only woman dean up to this point had been Dean Anna Many, 1951-53.) Newcomb's administrative history was essentially one which was overseen by male administrators in a less favorable position than administrators within the College of Arts and Sciences. Also, Newcomb's faculty at one time was not as well paid as the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences, although Newcomb students always saw themselves as brighter and more intellectual than their male counterparts.
Many felt that a strong woman dean would help Newcomb's position within the University. Yet, due to conflicting goals about the status of Newcomb, the College was without a permanent dean for a large part of the time during the 1970s and 1980s. Susan Wittig was hired in 1979. After her resignation in 1981, Newcomb again had several Acting Deans (Raymond Esthus, 1981-83; Mary Ann Maguire, 1985-87; Emily Vokes, 1987-88) and one permanent Dean (Sara Chapman, 1984-85).
s Newcomb celebrated its centennial in 1986, the problems continued. The faculty of Newcomb, working closely with their peers from the College of Arts and Sciences, began to become uncomfortable with the separate status, particulary as it was percieved to influence decisions concerning tenure and promotions. In 1987, discussion over the autonomy of Newcomb College reached an impasse. Neither the faculty, the administrators, nor the alumnae were happy with the organization of Newcomb within the univeristy, and an easy resolution to the situation seemed remote. Consultants from outside the university were retained to study the possible options. Their report led to a decision to merge the faculties of Newcomb and the Tulane College of Arts and Sciences into a single Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences and to consolidate many administrative offices. Many alumnae were very active and vocal during this period, vigilant in their efforts to see Newcomb remain a viable college for women similar to the one they had known. They were instrumental, for example, in preserving the name Of Newcomb Art Department and the Newcomb Music Department which Tulane wished to call the Tulane Art Department and the Tulane Music Department.
As a result of all such recommendations and decisions, the Newcomb structure and that of the College of Arts and Sciences were reorganized. In this reorganization, the Board of Administrators affirmed "that Newcomb College and the College of Arts and Sciences shall continue to be distinct, each with its own student body, dean, and staff." The Newcomb campus was deemed to remain, in perpetuity, "Newcomb." To oversee the various activites which promote the education of women, the Board established the Newcomb Foundation and outlined the existence of a body of faculty members, Newcomb Fellows, to act in support of the College's mission.
These changes and others represent an attempt to achieve an updated version of Newcomb's original dual mission: the benefits found within a women's college and those offered by a coeducational institution. Under Dean Ann Die, Acting Dean Beth Willinger, Dean Jeanie Watson, and Acting Dean Valerie Greenberg Newcomb's goal has been to continue to focus upon women's education. In a society in which men and women increasingly work together, yet one in which women still meet with considerable prejudice, Newcomb attempts to prepare young women for their future lives.
H. Sophie. Newcomb
If you wish to learn more about Newcomb, visit these sites:
Newcomb Through The Years: A gallery of pictures from The Newcomb Archives.
The Newcomb Relief Unit: Our page on the relief unit that went to Europe after World War I.
If you wish more detailed information about Newcomb Archives' holdings on the history of the college, please contact the Center about obtaining a copy of H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College: A Research Guide by Georgen Coyle and Susan Tucker, the volume from which this short history was excerpted.
All images are found in the photographic collection of Newcomb Archives.
Back to NCCROW's Main Page