National Women’s History Month: Honoring Ellen Browning Scripps

national women's history month March is National Women’s History Month – a movement dedicated to highlighting the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society, the celebration actually traces its beginnings back to the first International Women’s Day in 1911. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week; by 1987, Congress had declared it as a whole month. This year’s theme is Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives, and to honor the occasion, we took a moment to reflect on the life of La Jolla’s very own Ellen Browning Scripps.

When she graced the cover of Time Magazine in 1926, Miss Scripps was called “the most beloved woman in Southern California;” nearly a century later, her legacy lives on in the multitude of California hospitals and schools she funded in the early 1900s.

Illinois Beginnings & a Love of Journalism

national women's history month

Scripps was born in October of 1836 in Rushville, Illinois to British parents, and went on to become one of the first women to attend college in the United States. After graduation, she took a position as a school teacher in Rushville, where she earned a meager salary of just $9 a month.

Later, her brother James started the Detroit Evening News; Scripps teamed up with him, proofreading and eventually penning her own front page feature titled “Matters and Things,” which included her thoughts on the still-inconceivable topics of women’s suffrage and prohibition. Scripps’ knack for journalism stayed with her for the rest of her life.

SEE ALSO: The Stories Behind 4 Historical Landmarks in La Jolla

The Heart of a Nurse & the Courage of an Astronaut

Scripps moved to La Jolla in 1896 and almost immediately began the philanthropic legacy for which she is so well known. She gave generously to projects that stimulated her intellect as well as her love of nature, medicine and humanity; Ellen was admired and much loved by family and friends alike. Fondly remembering his aunt, Thomas O. Scripps famously remarked that “Aunt Ellen had the heart of a nurse, the courage of an astronaut and a capacity to give both generously and wisely.”

In 1924, while recovering from a broken hip in a poorly equipped infirmary in La Jolla, Scripps became determined to build the finest hospital she could for the little coastal town she had come to call home. Scripps Memorial Hospital was founded in 1924 on Prospect Street in La Jolla where it grew until 1964, when it relocated to its present site on Genesee Avenue.

A Lifelong La Jolla Legacy

national womens history month

Through various contributions and inspiration, Miss Scripps was responsible for the establishment of numerous institutions, including the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, La Jolla Woman’s Club and The Bishop’s School. She financed the construction of The Athenaeum, La Jolla Recreation Center, La Jolla Public Library, Scripps College, the Children’s Pool, and La Jolla High School. Scripps College in Claremont is also named for her generous contribution.

To protect the unique and rare Torrey pine trees she so loved, Scripps purchased the tract of land now called Torrey Pines State Reserve and gave it to the state with the provision that the land remain undeveloped forever. Even Balboa Park benefited from her philanthropy: the world’s largest aviary, part of the San Diego Zoo, was a gift from Miss Scripps, and she donated a large sum of money to the Natural History Museum.

Women’s History Month is a time to reflect, remember, and commemorate the great women who have contributed to the betterment of our society. Ellen Browning Scripps is just one of the many incredible people who were responsible for the development of La Jolla and San Diego; her kindness, generosity, and altruism are very much part of La Jolla’s continuing spirit.

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