Ellen Browning Scripps

Ellen Browning Scripps

Scripps College was founded in 1926 by Ellen Browning Scripps, a pioneering philanthropist and influential figure in the worlds of education, publishing, and women’s rights. “The paramount obligation of a college,” she believed, “is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.”

At the age of 89, Ellen Browning Scripps founded Scripps College as one of the few institutions in the West dedicated to educating women for professional careers as well as personal growth.

Now, more than eight decades later, her vision remains as timely as ever; it has guided the College to its status as a top liberal arts college and one of the country’s premier women’s colleges. Scripps boasts students who are bright, forward-thinking young women engaged with contemporary issues, not unlike our trailblazing founder was.


Ellen 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, Illinois. 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.

Ellen Browning ScrippsOther early civic activities include 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.

Ms. Scripps’ philanthropic spirit is also seen in San Diego County, where she eventually retired. 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 her gifts. Her spirit is immortalized in the gifts that the public still benefits from today: the Woman’s Club, the Public Library, the Scripps Memorial Hospital and Metabolic Clinic, and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. In San Diego, the Natural History Museum, the Zoological Garden and the Welfare Building continue to benefit from her patronage.

Ellen Browning Scripps said that “the paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.” These words were the beginning of Scripps College and illustrate the giving spirit and dedication to accomplishment and education that fueled her philanthropic efforts.

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