The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1978, Volume 24, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor

By Dick Carlson

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Ellen Browning Scripps

One of San Diego’s most remarkable and indefatigable benefactors, Ellen Browning Scripps, is pictured below. “Miss Ellen,” as she was called, was born in 1836. A former teacher and newspaper woman, she was one of the founders of the Cleveland Press—the beginning of the great Scripps newspaper chain.

Ellen and her sister Virginia

Miss Ellen pursued a simple, frugal and academic life in her La Jolla home, “Moulton Villa.” For many years she lived with her sister Virginia (right) devoting her energies to study, writing and speaking for causes in which she was interested. She devoted her finances as well. Miss Ellen was rich, a fact which made her uncomfortable. She ultimately gave away a great deal of her money.

Ellen Scripps’ gifts to San Diego were legion. Her donations included the Natural History Museum, Torrey Pines Park and the Children’s Pool and Art Center in La Jolla. A lifelong advocate of free speech, she gave Scripps Park to the city to be used for political and social discussions of any kind. Miss Ellen kept her own laboratory at Moulton Villa, satisfying an unending curiosity about marine biology and a passionate interest in scientific research. In 1903 she helped establish the Marine Biology Association which eventually grew into one of the finest laboratories of its kind in the world, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Her personal interest in studies of metabolism led her to fund another scientific landmark, the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation.

Ellen Scripps at the San Diego Zoo

Ellen Scripps died in 1932 at the age of ninety-six. As an old woman (left) she toured the San Diego Zoo to which she was devoted. Frail and alone she had given so much more than money. She symbolized a deep and intelligent interest in the future of the people of San Diego.