Ellen Browning Scripps: Extraordinary Journalist & Philanthropist

ellen browning scripps

“Charity begins at home,” American philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, known for her southern California charity initiatives, once said. But it also begins with intellect, motivation, hard work, and a passion for change.

These crucial factors combined helped Ellen Browning Scripps transform herself from a young book lover and farm worker into a teacher and university student; then, into a newspaper journalist, and finally an influential philanthropist and donor.

Born on October 18, 1836 in London, Ellen grew up in Rushville, Illinois as one of 13 children. Intellectually curious from a young age, she was the only sibling to attend college. Later, she moved to Detroit to work for her younger brother’s newspaper The Detroit Tribune.

After being promoted from copy editor to journalist, Ellen penned a daily column that summed up local news succinctly for readers, and her continued investments in the newspaper business earned her a fortune. In fact, the New York Times later recognized her as “one of the pioneers in modern American journalism.”

As a financially independent woman of her own making, Ellen travelled the world in the late 19th century and eventually settled in southern California with a few of her many siblings, with whom she shared land, home, and seaside contentment.

It was here her philanthropic ambition came to fruition in a number of diverse fashions. A supporter of women’s suffrage and education, Ellen donated land for a college preparatory for girls in 1909, then endowed the Scripps College. She also commissioned what became one of the country’s first public playgrounds, the La Jolla Community Center, which she stipulated must be open to anyone regardless “of race, creed or opinion.”

Ellen was also a lover of the world’s many wonders: she was a member of the Egypt Exploration Fund, worked to preserve California pines, and gave the San Diego Zoo an aviary and animal research hospital.

It’s true that Ellen’s charity started close to home (and in some cases, close to body) — for example, dissatisfaction with the treatment of her own broken leg prompted her to found the Scripps Memorial Hospital and the Scripps Metabolic Clinic in 1922.

Despite being initiated from and for her region, it’s clear that the impact of Ellen’s philanthropy was felt not only locally, but spanning history, causes and continents.

After her death in 1935, just weeks from her 96th birthday, she was described as a master of “living and giving” — an accurate account of a remarkable woman’s fruitful time on Earth.


Written by

Elizabeth Creekmore is a philanthropist, humanitarian, mother and Southern culture enthusiast located in Jackson, Mississippi.