“The most important and beautiful gift one human being can give to another is, in some way, to make life a little better to live.” —Ellen Browning Scripps, Founder, 1924
Few women have graced the cover of Time magazine since the periodical’s beginning in 1923. La Jolla’s Ellen Browning Scripps, at age 89, became a member of that exclusive club on February 22, 1926. Terming her the “most beloved woman in Southern California,” Time magazine honored Miss Ellen for her philanthropy which made possible the establishment of numerous major health, educational and cultural institutions throughout the state of California.
Born on October 18, 1836, Ellen Browning Scripps was seven years old when her father, James Mogg Scripps, a London bookbinder, settled with his family in Rushville, Illinois. Even then, hers was a pursuit of education and knowledge. One of the first women to attend college in the United States, Miss Ellen completed her studies in 1858 at Illinois’ Knox College. After graduation, she took a position as a school teacher in Rushville. Her salary: $9 a month.
When her brother James started the Detroit Evening News, Ellen joined him, proofreading and writing a front page feature “Matters and Things,” which included thoughts from this progressive and far-thinking young woman on the yet unheard doctrines of women’s suffrage and prohibition. She continued her career in journalism until the end of her days.
In 1932, the year of her death, her column was one of the world’s largest newspaper features, distributed to approximately 1,000 newspapers in the country every day. It was a lucrative progression for Miss Ellen. As her brothers continued building the newspapers, Cleveland Press, St. Louis Chronicle, Cincinnati Post, that would eventually grow to a 24-paper major newspaper chain, Miss Ellen worked beside them and became a wealthy woman.
Her move to La Jolla in 1896 set the stage for the philanthropic legacy that was to flow from this amassed wealth. Almost from her earliest days in the seaside community, her generosity was felt not only in La Jolla, but also throughout San Diego County and the rest of Southern California.
In the final third of her life, she gave generously to projects that stimulated her intellect as well as her love of nature, medicine and humanity. This penchant for giving came from a woman with a warm and perceptive soul. Miss Ellen was admired, and much loved by family and friends alike. Remembered by her nephew, Thomas O. Scripps, some years ago in his book, “Aunt Ellen had the heart of a nurse, the courage of an astronaut and a capacity to give both generously and wisely … I loved her very, very much as I am sure everyone does.”
The tangible reminders of this dedicated benefactress are numerous and varied. Of course, we are all familiar with the results of her keen interest in medicine.
In 1924, while recovering from a broken hip in a poorly equipped sanitarium in La Jolla, Miss Ellen determined to build the finest hospital she could for the part of the world she had come to love. Scripps Memorial Hospital was founded on a site on Prospect Street in La Jolla where it grew until 1964 when it relocated to its present site on Genesee Avenue. She also founded Scripps Metabolic Clinic (now Scripps Clinic) in 1924.
Through contributions and inspiration, Miss Ellen was responsible for the establishment of institutions such as the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, La Jolla Women’s Club and The Bishop’s School. The Anthenaeum Music and Arts Library, La Jolla Public Library, Scripps College, Ellen Browning Scripps Elementary School and Scripps Field and La Jolla High School also developed from her generous gifts.
To protect the unique and rare Torrey pine tree for future generations, Miss Ellen purchased a tract of land and gave it to the state with the provision that the parcel, now called Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, remain undeveloped forever. Even Balboa Park benefited from her carefully thought out largesse. The world’s largest aviary, in the San Diego Zoo, was a gift from Miss Ellen, as were the magnificent tower and carillon that still grace the entrance to Balboa Park. Her gifts were lasting, their benefits far-reaching.