Belle Jennings Benchley (1882-1973)

bellebenchleyMrs. Belle J. Benchley, Executive Secretary and Manager of the Zoological Garden of San Diego, was born in Larned, Kansas, one of eight children. Her mother, Ida Belle (Orrell) Jennings, came to southern Illinois a few years before the civil war, with her father, who was a blacksmith famous for the beauty of his hand-made carriages and implements. Her paternal grandfather, Austin Hilton Jennings, was one of the early settlers of Ohio, and one of the founders of Ohio Wesleyan University, where he held life scholarships for the education of all his thirteen children. He and his wife began their married life in a log cabin with oiled paper windows.

Mrs. Benchley came to California with her family in September 1887, staying in Los Angeles for three months before settling in San Diego. She was educated in the public schools of San Diego, and graduated from Russ High School and San Diego Normal School. All but one term of elementary schooling was received in the ungraded school in Roseville, Point Loma, which school was started in a room of her father’s home; as there was no building for it.

After her graduation from Normal School, Mrs. Benchley taught school for nearly four years. She served two consecutive terms as School Trustee in Fullerton, Orange County, from May 1919 to January 1924, the first woman to fill that office in Fullerton. She resigned this office when she moved to San Diego. During her last two years in Fullerton she was employed by the Hugh Miller Company, subdividers, as cashier and later was manager of the Benchley Fruit Company. On October 19, 1925, she became bookkeeper at the Zoological Garden, and not quite two years later became Executive Secretary and Manager, the first woman in the world to occupy such a position.

She is a member of the International Association of Altrusa Clubs, and has served as president and vice-president of that organization. She is also a Senior Fellow of the American Association of Park Executives, and a member of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums. She is intensely interested in natural life, the study of the flora of California, and since her connection with the Zoological Garden, the conservation of all wild life, but she is especially interested in the wild and captive gorrilas.

In San Diego, June 25, 1906, she was married to William L. Benchley, and they have one son, Edward Jennings Benchley.

[from Heilbron, Carl. History of San Diego County v.2: Biography. San Diego: San Diego Press Club, 1936. (pages 45-46)]

See also:

Benchley, Belle Jennings. My Animal Babies. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1945.

Benchley, Belle Jennings. My Friends, the Apes. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1942.

Benchley, Belle Jennings. My Life in a Man-Made Jungle. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1940.

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