The Legacy of Charlotte W. Newcombe

Charlotte Rachel Wilson was born on March 28, 1890 in Philadelphia. Her father, Dr. Matthew J. Wilson, a physician and a public-spirited citizen, served several terms on Philadelphia’s Board of Education. Dr. Wilson was a pharmacist before he became a physician; he maintained an interest in pharmaceuticals and, beginning in the 1890s, made wise investments in Smith Kline, a Philadelphia drug company.

Although her older sister and younger brother were college graduates, Charlotte Wilson never attended college. Her vision was impaired from childhood and she could not read for long enough periods to make serious study possible.

During World War I, she sold war bonds in her community and was active in the Red Cross, teaching women to knit socks, scarves and warm hats for soldiers. She accompanied her parents on a leisurely trip around the world in 1925-27, spending several months each in Japan, India, Egypt, France and England. On the ship that took them from India through the Red Sea to Egypt, she met Fred C. Newcombe, the ship’s officer who became her husband almost three decades later, in 1952.

Charlotte Wilson lived with her parents and cared for them in their declining years. Before his death in 1931, Dr. Wilson secured a firm promise from his daughter that she would never sell any of the Smith Kline stock she would inherit. Her adherence to that promise over the next 48 years was rewarded by the remarkable growth of the drug company and of her fortune late in her life. At her death, her estate was valued at more than $34 million.

Descended from Scots who immigrated to the United States from what is now Northern Ireland, Mrs. Newcombe was proud of her heritage and loyal to the Presbyterian Church. As a member of Presbyterian congregations in Philadelphia, she was a strong supporter of ministry and mission. She derived great pleasure from regular church attendance, from the beauty of church music, and from generously supporting the church. In her will, Mrs. Newcombe divided her residual estate between Princeton Theological Seminary and her new scholarship foundation.

Mrs. Newcombe was a benefactress of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where her father had trained as a physician in the early 1880’s. Together with her brother, Mrs. Newcombe endowed the Matthew J. Wilson Professorship of Radiology. She made later gifts to the University in 1970 and in her will to fund research in radiology.

Mrs. Newcombe greatly valued higher education; during her lifetime she sent the children of several friends to college, taking a vigorous interest in their progress. In her will, she established the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation to continue her scholarship gifts. Her legacy continues under the stewardship of the Foundation’s Trustees.