Ellen Browning Scripps (1836-1932)

ellenscrippsEllen Browning Scripps was born on South Molton Street, London, England, October 18, 1836, the daughter of James Mogg and Ellen Mary (Saunders) Scripps. Her father, one of the foremost bookbinders in the city of London, came to this country from England in 1844, with six motherless children, aged three to thirteen, in a sailing vessel, the voyage occupying some six weeks. They landed in Boston, proceeded immediately to Albany, taking the Erie Canal to Buffalo, and on to Rushville, Illinois, where the family settled, joining other members of the Scripps family who had preceded them. There the father married Julia A. Osborne who became the mother of Edward Wyllis, later to become one of the foremost journalists of the United States. Throughout his life he was very closely associated with his half-sister Ellen, who was eighteen years his senior. He died March 12, 1926.

Beginning as a small child and continuing throughout her long life, Miss Scripps was a diligent reader of solid literature. Her formal education was secured at several local private schools and a seminary in Rushville, She matriculated at Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, in 1856 and was graduated therefrom in 1859. She had great curiosity respecting all that was occurring in the world, which stimulated her studious bent. She began teaching when she was sixteen or seventeen and taught several years before entering Knox. After graduating from Knox College, she taught for some eight years in public and private schools.

Then followed her first newspaper experience on the Detroit Tribune. Her father having been taken ill in 1870, she returned to Rushville to care for him and continued to do so until he died in May, 1873. She lived frugally and saved systematically. When her brother, James E., founded the Detroit Evening News in August, 1873, she joined him, investing her savings in the project. At that time the country was suffering a severe depression and the public at large was in a panicky state of mind, drawing money out of banks and refusing to invest in projects of any kind. In the face of all this, Miss Scripps put her savings into the new venture, having faith in its outcome. Although it had a very humble beginning — a four-page, six-column sheet — it has become one of the most successful newspapers in the country. Miss Scripps started as a proof-reader, working in this capacity all day, spending her evenings preparing miscellany for use the following day. She labored long and conscientiously in behalf of the Detroit Evening News. In 1878 she joined her brothers in founding the Cleveland Press. To it she contributed for some years a daily budget of comment on people and affairs. Its editor, E.W., said that on days when news was dull, “Ellen’s budget often was a lifesaver.” She also joined her brother, E.W., in founding other newspapers, continuing to invest her savings in many of them. She watched with interest the growth of these enterprises which were in time to make her a wealthy woman. She was an exceedingly keen business woman with a remarkable capacity for statements and figures and during her entire connection with the newspaper business she studied the statements of the properties in which she was interested and knew that they were growing in value at a rapid rate.

It was during this time that she began to realize that she was in the way of becoming a wealthy woman and put funds aside as “a trust for the benefit of humanity.” Living modestly and never having married, she was able to accumulate quite a fortune in her own right before she became the recipient of a large legacy in the will of her brother, George H. Scripps, who died in 1900. When informed of her brother’s gift, she expressed herself as regretting that such a large amount had been left to her and took it as a trust, which in the years that followed, she administered so wisely that her kind acts live in the hearts of thousands today.

[She retired and settled in La Jolla in 1896.] In her philanthropies no one knows just how much money Ellen Browning Scripps gave away during the last thirty years of her life, but it was in the millions. Schools, colleges, hospitals, research institutions, children’s playgrounds, zoological gardens, the Young Women’s and Young Men’s Christian associations, churches of many denominations, natural history societies and private individuals were the recipients of this generous woman’s gifts and bequests. In La Jolla, where she made her home the last thirty-five years of her life, her public spirit stands immortalized in the gifts she made for the benefit of the public, among them the Woman’s Club, the Public Library, the Scripps Memorial Hospital and Metabolic Clinic, the Bishop’s School, the Community House and Playgrounds, Children’s Pool, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and financial aid in building the churches in that community; in San Diego, the Natural History Museum, the Zoological Garden and Research Laboratory located in Balboa Park, and the Welfare Building, housing the welfare activities of the city.

She became interested in Pomona College at Claremont, California, making many gifts to it. In her late eighties, the vision of a group of small residential colleges in Claremont, associated somewhat after the model of Oxford University, won her enthusiastic support; the second member of which group, a college for women, was named Scripps College in her honor. To it, to Pomona, and to Claremont Colleges, her gifts in life and by will amounted to more than two millions.

One of her earliest civic activities was in supporting the woman’s suffrage movement, not with large monetary backing, for at the time her income was limited, but by writing and talking for the advancement of the cause, which she kept up until it was achieved; also, she was insistent that women should prepare themselves for exercising the right of franchise and actively aided in providing facilities therefore. She was a great believer in, and an active supporter of, the national recreation movement.

Miss Scripps died at La Jolla, August 3, 1932.

[from Heilbron, Carl. History of San Diego County v.2: Biography. San Diego: San Diego Press Club, 1936. (pages 92-94)]

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