Inside USD

USD History Professor Documents Ellen Browning Scripps’ Legacy

Thursday, April 8, 2010

EBScripps-PhotoAlthough the city of La Jolla officially became part of the city of San Diego in 1850, it could be argued that its foundation wasn’t truly laid until Ellen Browning Scripps arrived in 1896.

Scripps — the daughter of James Mogg Scripps and Ellen Mary (Saunders) Scripps and part of a wealthy family that created a national newspaper empire — enjoyed a 96-year life in which she was a “journalist, suffragette, investor and philanthropist,” according to USD associate history professor Molly McClain (pictured, right), who is working on a biography of Scripps’ life.

McClain, also director of USD’s Interdisciplinary Humanities program, delivered an overview of Scripps’ life for the third annual Humanities Lecture Tuesday night at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theatre.

Scripps, born in 1836 in London before the family moved to the U.S. in 1844 and eventually settled in Rushville, Ill., graduated from Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. She was a teacher before and after attending college, then embarked on a journalism career with papers in Detroit and Cleveland as a proofreader and features reporter. Scripps lived frugally and invested wisely; once her newspaper journalism career waned, she moved west to La Jolla. Upon inheriting a large fortune when her brother, George H. Scripps, died in 1900, she pooled those funds with her own money and organized a trust that focused on serving humanity.

“She was very thoughtful in her philanthropy,” McClain said. Scripps’ help was widespread. It aided the development of schools (The Bishop’s School), colleges (Scripps College for Women), hospitals (Scripps Memorial), libraries, museums, research institutions (Scripps Institute of Oceanography), children’s playgrounds, the Children’s Pool, the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, churches, and many more.

She was a founding member of the La Jolla Women’s Club, was active in the League of Women Voters, Junior League and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Scripps’ involvement raised her profile as an inspiration to other women during the suffrage movement. Her efforts on behalf of women’s education remains true at the Scripps College for Women in Claremont, Calif., where McClain’s discovery of a major collection of items from Scripps’ life gave her the idea of writing a book.

“I asked around to see if someone was doing anything and no one was working on it. Then I thought, ‘why don’t I do something and write about it?’” McClain said.

McClain, a ninth-generation San Diegan whose previous biography writing/publishing experience is 2001’s “Beaufort: The Duke and his Duchess (1657-1715)” as well as articles about Queen Mary II, is also co-editor of The Journal of San Diego History.

Scripps’ story, McClain said, is inspiring. “The more I read about her, the more I like her and the more I respect her. She had a great sense of humor, a lot of wit … I really admire her spirit, especially in an age when that’s not supposed to be the way things are.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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