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Ellen Scripps and the La Jolla Women’s Club

Ellen Browning Scripps moved to San Diego, California with her brother E.W. Scripps and his family in 1891. She was then a woman of 60 with an independent fortune, and for the first time in her life, she established her own home in La Jolla, California in 1897 together with her sister Virginia Scripps. Ellen began a new life as a philanthropist. Her principles were straightforward. She believed in education and free speech; she was an advocate of women's suffrage and women's' clubs; biology interested her; she abhorred discrimination and privilege and favored temperance and world peace. She disliked the word "philanthropist," and referred to her gifts as investments.

After founding the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, she founded Scripps College, Scripps Hospital and Scripps Clinic. She built the La Jolla Women's Club, the La Jolla Library, and the Children's Pool. She provided scholarships to The Bishops School. She purchased Torrey Pines and other lands and donated them to the public as parks. She made substantial contributions to the San Diego Zoo, and she donated sums to many religious institutions without regard to denomination. She commissioned works by local artists and architects, including Irving Gill, and provided gifts for the publication of scientific books, especially books documenting the natural history of San Diego.

“The most important and beautiful gift one human being can give to another is, in some way, to make life a little better to live.” — Ellen Browning Scripps

The La Jolla Woman’s Club

Courtesy of the La Jolla Women’s Club

The La Jolla Woman’s Club, founded in 1894, was the focal point for the activities of an extraordinary group of women who ran La Jolla at the turn of the twentieth century. In the early years, La Jolla attracted a large number of women with spirit, intelligence, and the desire to further social change. Some were widowed; others divorced. Some were good church-going women; others dabbled in Theosophy and spiritual healing, held séances, and practiced yoga. Some were conservative, but most were progressives who fought for free speech and the right to vote. Together, they organized a women’s literary and current events club that became the La Jolla Women’s Club. Members met every Wednesday afternoon between September and June, gathering, first, at the La Jolla Hotel, next, at the library’s first Reading Room, and, later, in the Sunday school room of the Presbyterian Church or in one another’s houses. Membership increased significantly in the club’s first two decade. In 1901, there were 17 members; by 1914, there were nearly 100.  It soon became clear that the club needed “a home of its own.”

In 1913, Ellen Browning Scripps decided to donate land and money for the construction of a permanent home for the La Jolla Woman’s Club. She settled on property located close to her own house and imagined “a simple, cottage-like building to cost about seven or eight thousand dollars.” Architect Irving J. Gill, however, convinced her that the structure should be built of concrete in the same manner as The Bishop’s School. Since she had no desire to supervise such a major project, she asked clubwoman Mary Ritter to take charge of the construction, “relieving her of everything but signing checks.” In the meantime, she offered the club the use of her own home for meetings.

The cornerstone of the new women’s club was laid on December 3, 1913. Scripps described the ceremony in a letter to her sister, noting the irony of singing “Blest be the Tie that Binds” while standing around a water-filled foundation, hoping for the cement to dry.

One hundred years later, it stands as a testament to community spirit and civic activism, a reminder of the free-thinking, adventurous women who settled La Jolla and claimed a place for themselves in the modern world.

In 1914, Marjorie Henri, wife of New York artist Robert Henri, complained to her mother-in-law about the character of La Jolla. She wrote, “Women, women everywhere and none of them young or pretty…There are no men around—absolutely a woman’s town. They own everything and run everything and talk politics incessantly. Twang. Twang. Twang.”

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