Walter Loomis Newberry, namesake of the Newberry Library, funded the establishment of the library in his will on the condition that his daughters die "without issue."

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The daughters, Mary Louisa Newberry and Julia Rose Newberry, both died within 10 years of their father. Newberry's wife, Julia Clapp Newberry, died in 1885. Newberry's wishes for a library were finally honored two years later, when half of his estate ($2.1 million) went towards the founding of the Newberry Library. By this time, the Chicago Public Library was thriving. The Library's first trustees, therefore, decided to devote Newberry's bequest to the establishment of a "library for scholars and people desiring to make careful researches." Over the next few years, the Library's collecting scope was further refined, and the Newberry became dedicated to the humanities.