Ellen Browning Scripps helped her brother, James, start the Detroit News. She pioneered the concept of the feature article and wrote a widely-distributed daily news column until her death in 1932. The youngest child in her family, and a favorite of Ellen’s was E.W. Browning. With her financial help, E.W. founded the chain of Scripps newspapers. When her oldest brother George died, Ellen inherited his estate. Ellen believed her wealth should be held in trust to help humanity.
Ms. Scripps came to La Jolla in the middle 1890′s and had a profound effect on the local community. She and her sister got involved in intellectual activities, joining the women’s literary and current events club that later became the La Jolla Woman’s Club. At a time when few women had college educations, clubs provided a venue in which their members could advance their knowledge and intellectual skills. Clubwomen discussed current events such as U.S. territorial expansion following the Spanish-American War and women’s suffrage. In October 1899, Irene Robertson gave a paper on “Municipal Housekeeping” while Eleanor Mills spoke on the subject of British imperialism in Africa, or “Cape to Cairo.” The club subsequently talked about the troubles in South Africa that would lead to the Boer War. In 1918, Ellen described the club as a place “for serious thought and work and study; a means of mental growth, spiritual culture,” and the development of women’s “natural forces and resources.”
The La Jolla Woman’s Club clubhouse, at a cost of $40,000 was one of her first benefactions. Miss Scripps was President of La Jolla Woman’s Club from 1901-1904 and from 1909-1910.
She also commissioned Irving Gill to build the community building and playground (now La Jolla Recreation Center), and it was the first public playground in the U.S. Miss Scripps and E.W. built the Institute of Oceanography (another Irving Gill building); then Ellen had the road built to the Institution, and on to Del Mar (the nearest point to the railroad). To preserve the unique Torrey Pines, Ellen built the lodge and custodian’s quarters and gave the park to San Diego. Miss Ellen’s legacy lives on in the following institutions: Scripps Clinics and Scripps Hospitals, The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), Scripps College, The Bishops School (several buildings were also designed by Irving Gill), La Jolla Library, La Jolla Historical Society, Girl Scouts of San Diego-Imperial Council, San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego Zoo, The Athenaeum and numerous other organizations that continue to benefit from her foundation.
Ellen Browning Scripps died in her La Jolla home on August 3, 1932, a few weeks before her 96th birthday. Shortly thereafter, the leading newspaper trade journal Editor & Publisher praised her contributions to American journalism: “Many women have contributed, directly and indirectly, to the development of the American press, but none more influentially and beneficently than Ellen Browning Scripps.”The New York Times, meanwhile, recognized her as “one of the pioneers in modern American journalism.” Her obituary described her as a woman who had perfected “the art of living” as well as the art of giving.