Reports say that Scripps had a quiet way about her. If you read about her achievements, such as campaigning for women’s suffrage, her speeches at the Woman’s Club, her journalistic work in her brothers’ many papers, you will see that she was forceful, persuasive and productive, always with the good of humanity in mind.
La Jolla needed just such a lady when, in 1896, at the age of 60, Ellen Browning Scripps found La Jolla.
Her home on Prospect Street is now the Museum of Contemporary Art. It might have been nice to have preserved her home as a center of interest in the community, even though she lived modestly. This alone would have been an inspiration to the rest of us.
Undoubtedly, there are photographs of her home. Were the drapes velvet or checkered gingham? Was the kitchen large? Does anyone have her favorite recipes? Did she like chocolate cake? Could she sing and could she dance the waltz? What was she really like?
She was not born to wealth. She was born in London on Oct. 18, 1836, the daughter of James Scripps, a bookbinder. At the age of 8, she arrived in Rushville, Ill., with her father, who was then bankrupt and a widower with six children.
Her frugal habits never seemed to have changed. She saved her money and entered Knox College, from which she graduated in 1869, reportedly the first woman to earn a degree at that institution.
Her teaching years totaled eight. During that time, she must have learned to love children, as shown by her later philanthropic projects.
In 1873, a depression loomed. People were apparently afraid to invest in anything. Scripps invested without hesitation, however, when her brothers George and Edward started newspapers in Detroit and Cleveland. She worked in various capacities, beginning with proofreading and journalism. These enterprises apparently built a fortune.
In 1896, Scripps retired in La Jolla. Four years later, her brother George left her a huge fortune. Like a fairy godmother, Ellen Browning Scripps began the astounding shaping of the little village by the sea that was to become famous because of her foresight and caring.
At the turn of the century, La Jolla was a sleepy seaside resort that attracted people of stature: artists, authors, educators, scientists and more.
Early San Diegans built quaint vacation cottages and watched as real estate agents sliced the land as though they were slicing bread. I can almost hear Ellen Browning Scripps saying, “Uh-oh, we had better set aside some areas to keep La Jolla’s charm and beauty.” And that’s what she did!
Her philanthropy began in 1903 with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography near La Jolla Shores, followed by the Woman’s Club on Draper Avenue. Then came what is now the La Jolla Recreation Center in 1913, followed in two years by the Birch Aquarium.
Scripps Park came into being in 1923, followed the next year by the beginnings of the San Diego Zoo and Torrey Pines State Park.
Scripps saw the need for a local hospital when she broke her leg. Scripps Memorial Hospital and the adjoining Metabolic Clinic (now second in the country for excellence) came into being. Her last proj-ect was funding of the seawall at the Children’s Pool at Casa Beach in 1931.
Looking back on this astounding record, one wonders what La Jolla would be like if this remarkable lady had not made this area her home.
The town, no longer so little in 1987, celebrated its centennial with speakers, art shows, auctions in the park, street dances, library exhibits, shows and parades. Many times over, due credit was given to the lady who was La Jolla’s angel.
If, indeed, her spirit wandered about watching us, did she like what she saw? Did she cry or did she smile in wonderment?
— Patricia Weber is a longtime resident of La Jolla.