Heirs Sue Tulane for Closing Historic Women's College

Heirs of a major Tulane University benefactor are suing the university, claiming that the school's decision to close the Newcomb College for women violated the terms of an 1886 donation of about $100,000 from Josephine Louise Newcomb.

The gift, adjusting for inflation, would be worth about $2 million now and was meant to establish the women's school, said the heirs' attorney, Shawn Holahan.

"There was no question why she left that money to Tulane, and now there's no reason to thwart that intention," Holahan said.

The lawsuit asks a state judge to prevent Tulane from closing Newcomb and a hearing is scheduled May 30, a day before the school is slated to close.

When she died in 1901, she left to the college her entire estate of $2 million, which would be worth about $46 million today. Newcomb was the first degree-granting college for women in the United States.

Tulane's board included Newcomb in widespread cuts and consolidations adopted in an effort to offset the costs of recovering from Hurricane Katrina, which caused about $300 million in damage and other losses.

In Newcomb's case, the school was to be consolidated with Tulane College, the liberal-arts undergraduate school for men, and renamed the Newcomb-Tulane College.

"The university is actively continuing Newcomb's legacy and traditions," Tulane spokesman Mike Strecker said.

The Newcomb College endowment has grown to $40 million and "continues to support the education and enrichment of women at Tulane University," Strecker said, adding that Tulane had not seen the lawsuit and therefore could not comment on it.

A suit filed earlier in federal court also contended that Tulane violated Josephine Louise Newcomb's intention when she established the college.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier denied an injunction that would prevent Tulane from closing the school, saying that in all of Josephine Louise Newcomb's communiques to Tulane, "there's nothing that says Tulane is restricted in any way."

In the current lawsuit filed in state district court, the plaintiffs are Parma Matthis Howard of North Carolina and Jane Matthis Smith of South Carolina. Both are descendants of Eleanor Ann LeMonnier Henderson, who was Josephine Louise Newcomb's sister.