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Guide to the Ellen Browning Scripps Collection
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Chronology
  • Scope and Content Summary
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Ellen Browning Scripps collection,
    Date (inclusive): 1840-2000 (bulk 1880-1936)
    Collection number: D1981.1
    Collector: Scripps, Ellen Browning, 1836-1932, and Harper, J. C. (Jacob Chandler), 1858-1939
    Extent: 70 cubic feet
    Repository: Claremont Colleges. Library.
    Claremont, CA 91711
    Abstract: The Ellen Browning Scripps Collection contains correspondence, financial material, newspaper business documents, travel materials, diaries, and materials documenting Ellen Browning Scripps's many philanthropic activities. Her philanthropies include Scripps College, Scripps Clinic and Hospital, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and many other local and national projects, organizations, and institutions. The collection covers the years 1840 to 2000 with the bulk of the material ranging from 1880 to 1936. This collection also contains materials of J.C. Harper, E.W. Scripps, and other family members, business acquaintances and friends who had close relationships to Ellen Browning Scripps.
    Physical location: Ella Strong Denison Library
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    This collection is open for research with permission from Ella Strong Denison Library staff. Glass plate negatives in box 2 are restricted to staff use only.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with Scripps College. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and their heirs. For permissions to reproduce or to publish, please contact Ella Strong Denison Library staff.

    Preferred Citation

    Ellen Browning Scripps Collection. Ella Strong Denison Library, Scripps College, Claremont, California.

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of the Edward W. Scripps Trust, Cincinnati, Ohio and Margaret Scripps Buzzelli in 1981 and 1992.

    Processing History

    Preliminary arrangement by library staff. Processed by History Associates Incorporated, 2002.


    Ellen Browning Scripps, educator, publisher, and philanthropist, was born on October 18, 1836. Her middle name "Browning" commemorates the minister who converted her grandmother and baptized her mother. Ellen lived with her parents on 13 South Molton Street in St. George Parish, London, until the death of her mother in 1841. She was then placed in a boarding school for three years.
    Ellen was exposed to books and publishing at an early age as her grandfather, William Armiger Scripps, was an accomplished publisher in London and her father, James Mogg Scripps (1803-1873), was a successful bookbinder.
    Her father was married three times and fathered a total of thirteen children. His first marriage was to Elizabeth Sabey (1805-1831) in 1829. They had two children, William Sabey Scripps (1829-1831) and Elizabeth M. Scripps (1831-1914). James Mogg's second marriage was to Ellen's mother, Ellen Mary Saunders (1804-1841) in 1833. They had six children, Ellen Sophia Scripps (1833-1834), James E. Scripps (1835-1906), Ellen B. Scripps (1836-1932), William Armiger Scripps (1838-1914), George H. Scripps (1839-1900), and John Mogg Scripps (1840-1863). His third marriage was to Julia Adeline Osborn (1814-1893) in 1844. They had five children, Julia A. Scripps (1847-1898), Thomas O. Scripps (1848-1853), Frederick T. Scripps (1850-1936), Eliza Virginia Scripps (1852-1921), and Edward Wyllis Scripps (1854-1920).
    In 1844, three years after the death of Ellen's mother, her father moved her and her five siblings to the United States. They set sail on a 44-day voyage on the Francis Burr. Upon arriving in America, the family settled in Rushville, Illinois, where several of Ellen's family members had already settled. Ellen's father commented to her grandfather regarding his decision to emigrate to America that "it was on the children's account that I came, believing that I could do nothing for them in England. They will no doubt do well here."
    According to Edward Wyllis Scripps (E.W.), the family had a life in Rushville "not far removed from a pioneer farmer. All of the children were required to contribute their labor to the family's support. There were no servants. My mother was the head of the household." Since there were no public schools in Rushville in the 1840s and 1850s, Ellen attended seminary and a private school. She then attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois from 1856-1859 where she graduated with honors in mathematics. She was the first female graduate of Knox College. According to E.W., Ellen was the only one of James Mogg's thirteen children who obtained a college education. After graduating from Knox College, Ellen taught for approximately seven years in public and private schools in Hamilton, Augusta, and Rushville, Illinois.
    Ellen Browning Scripps also taught many of her siblings and took a special interest in the education of E.W., her youngest half-sibling. According to J.C. Harper, "very early in his life his half-sister Ellen assumed a peculiarly close and intimate oversight of E.W., more like a mother. She had faith in him. She believed that he was a genius in many ways. She saw to his education, awakened his interest in books..." In E.W.'s biography of Ellen, he recalls "my childhood memory of Ellen is mainly made up of a neatly dressed, almost finickily cleanly young woman with a book in her hand. She was either teaching me spelling, the primmer [sic], or reading to me stories, or talking to me explaining to me things that were read about or things around us. I remember her reading to the family circle around the hearth, night after night, for endless time."
    Ellen left Illinois in 1866 to be a proofreader at her brother James's newspaper office in Detroit. After two years in Detroit, she returned to Rushville to care for her ailing father until his death in 1873. While in Rushville, she also continued teaching. She lived frugally her entire working life and saved as much money as possible in order to help support family members. In 1873 she traveled back to Detroit where she joined her brother James who was establishing the "Detroit News." She invested her savings in the project and resumed her job as a proofreader.
    In addition to proofreading, Ellen also prepared a column entitled Miscellany for the Detroit "Evening News." Miscellany consisted of short feature stories that she compiled each evening after a full day of proofreading. The column proved especially useful on days when there was little other news to report. E.W. developed Ellen's idea of a daily feature column into the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) Service, Inc. which supplied daily features to many newspapers. Today the NEA, Inc., a Scripps-Howard company, provides hundreds of electronic and print publishers with highly acclaimed political commentary and a selection of graphics and illustrations through their daily service.
    In 1881, Ellen took a leave of absence from the paper and traveled abroad with E.W. During her absence, Miscellany was replaced by correspondence she wrote from foreign lands. Due to the publication of her travel letters, Ellen Browning Scripps is sometimes referred to as one of journalism's first foreign correspondents.
    In 1878, Ellen became a partner with E.W. in founding the Cleveland Press. In later years she invested in most of his publishing enterprises including the Cincinnati Post and other newspapers of the growing Scripps League. She moved to Southern California with E.W. and his family in 1890, settling on a ranch at Miramar. In 1897 she retired from the newspaper business and built her first home in La Jolla.
    As the Scripps League of papers grew, so did Ellen Browning Scripps's earnings. In 1900, she also received a considerable legacy from her brother, George H. Scripps. She was able to accumulate much wealth due in part to having never married and to her modest lifestyle. As she stated in a newspaper article regarding her house fire of 1915, "one of the papers spoke of my thousands of dollars of jewelry being lost in the fire. All the jewelry that I ever possessed would not sell for $20." She viewed her fortune as "a trust for the benefit of humanity" and not for her own indulgence.
    E.W. said of his sister's wealth, "As I review the whole of Ellen's business career, it had been from start to finish motivated by a desire, on her part, to serve others. And yet with all this, she has prospered in a material way, and to such an extent, that there are probably not a thousand other people, men or women, in this country, who with all their striving, all their ambition, and selfish aims, have succeeded in accumulating a larger fortune."
    Long before Ellen Browning Scripps accumulated her wealth, she regularly contributed time and what money she could to charities. As E.W. recalled, "all of my childhood memories of Ellen were of seeing her actively employed in some service - almost invariably entirely unselfish services. As I now make a rapid memory sweep o'er her whole life, it seems to me that she has persistently continued in this same course."
    For the most part, Ellen Browning Scripps distributed her wealth in order to create opportunities for many people rather than to individuals for their personal use. Her philanthropies include the establishment of Scripps College; the establishment of Scripps Institution of Oceanography with her brother E.W.; the establishment of Scripps Memorial Hospital; the establishment of Scripps Clinic (which was the second such facility in the United States); the establishment of Torrey Pines State Park; the establishment of the Bishop's School and James-by-the-Sea Church with her sister Virginia; and the establishment of the first public playground in the United States which she deeded to the city of San Diego. She also contributed to Pomona College, Knox College, Cleveland College, the San Diego Natural History Museum, the San Diego Zoo, various public libraries, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), churches of various denominations, the La Jolla Children's Pool, and the San Diego Woman's Club. She was also known as an early supporter and leader of the woman suffrage movement.
    In August 1932, Ellen Browning Scripps died of lung congestion that was attributed to advanced age. In accordance with her wishes, there was no public funeral, only private cremation services. Her ashes were scattered on the Pacific Ocean near her La Jolla home and according to her obituary, "she wished no other monument than the scores of humanitarian and educational works which her generosity created."


    1836 Born in London, England, on October 18.
    1844 Family moved from London and settled in Rushville, Illinois.
    1854 Graduated from high school.
    1856-1859 Attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.
    1859 Graduated from Knox College with honors with degree in mathematics.
    1861-1866 Taught school in Hamilton, Augusta, and Rushville, Illinois.
    1864 Received her first grade teaching certificate.
    1866-1868 Proofreader at her brother James's newspaper office in Detroit.
    1868 Returned to Rushville to care for her ailing father.
    1873 Departed Rushville after the death of her father to join brothers James and E.W. at the Detroit News. She invested her savings in this venture and worked as a proofreader. She also compiled a column entitled "Miscellany."
    1878 Cleveland Press established by E.W. and family.
    1881 Traveled to Algiers. She wrote weekly letters home that were published in the Detroit News.
    1882 Traveled to England and Spain. She wrote weekly letters home that were published in the Detroit News.
    1883 Traveled to Egypt, Palestine, Jerusalem, and Beirut.
    1887 Traveled to France.
    1888 Traveled to Italy, Amsterdam, England, and Spain.
    1890 Moved to California accompanied by E.W. and his family.
    1897 Built her first home in La Jolla.
    1915 Fire at La Jolla residence. A new residence was constructed, named South Moulton Villa after the location of her childhood residence in London.
    1912 Received honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois.
    1927 Received honorary Doctor of Laws from Pomona College, Claremont, California.
    1927 Scripps College established in Claremont, California.
    1927 La Jolla park renamed "Ellen Scripps Park."
    1932 Died in La Jolla, California, on August 3.

    Scope and Content Summary

    The Ellen Browning Scripps Collection contains correspondence, financial material, newspaper business documents, travel materials, diaries, and materials documenting Ellen Browning Scripps's many philanthropic activities. Her philanthropies include Scripps College, Scripps Clinic and Hospital, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and many other local and national projects, organizations, and institutions. The collection covers the years 1840 to 2000 with the bulk of the material ranging from 1880 to 1936. This collection also contains materials of J.C. Harper, E.W. Scripps, and other family members, business acquaintances, and friends who had close relationships to Ellen Browning Scripps.
    Documents authored by Ellen Browning Scripps may be found in Series 2. Correspondence, Series 4. Financial Material, Series 7. Speeches and Writings, Series 8. Diaries, and Series 9. Travel Material. Much of the other material in this collection is authored by Ellen Browning Scripps's family members and business acquaintances, especially J.C. Harper who served as her business advisor and friend for several years in the later part of her life. For assistance in determining Scripps family relationships, Series 1. Biographical Material includes a folder entitled Genealogical Materials, which contains Scripps family trees.
    With the exception of Series 11. Photographic Material, Series 12. Ephemera, and a few photographic prints scattered throughout other series, this collection consists largely of textual records. Textual record types primarily include correspondence, newspaper clippings, reports, notes, financial statements, diaries, and other bound volumes.
    The largest series in the collection consists of Ellen Browning Scripps's estate material. Other large series include Ellen Browning Scripps's financial material and a series containing J. C. Harper's files.
    In processing this collection, documents were typically retained in the file folder in which they were found. Some folder titles were modified in order to provide a more thorough description of folder contents. On some documents, folder titles were written at the top of the page by Ellen Browning Scripps and others. In many cases the folder titles on the documents do not match the original folder title. However, when the content of the document was consistent with the other material in the folder, the item was retained in its original folder regardless of the title written on the top of the document. In a few cases documents were moved to the proper folder if they had at some point obviously been filed incorrectly.
    The collection is organized into fifteen series:
    • Series 1. Biographical Material, 1841-1973. 1 cubic ft.
    • Series 2. Correspondence, 1840-1947. 5.5 cubic ft.
    • Series 3. Newspaper Business Material, 1878-1967. 4.5 cubic ft.
    • Series 4. Financial Material, 1873-1981. 10 cubic ft.
    • Series 5. Projects and Organizations Funded by Ellen Browning Scripps, 1875-2000. 6.5 cubic ft.
    • Series 6. Estate Material, 1852-1978. 15 cubic ft.
    • Series 7. Speeches and Writings, 1892-1927. .5 cubic ft.
    • Series 8. Diaries, 1871-1929. 3 cubic ft.
    • Series 9. Travel Material, 1881-1923. 1.5 cubic ft.
    • Series 10. Topical Files, 1847-1969. .5 cubic ft.
    • Series 11. Photographic Material, 1865-1935. 2.5 cubic ft.
    • Series 12. Ephemera, 1851-1933. 1.5 cubic ft.
    • Series 13. Other Scripps Family and Acquaintances, 1844-1967. 4 cubic ft.
    • Series 14. J. C. Harper, 1904-1966. 11 cubic ft.
    • Series 15. Oversize Material. 3 cubic ft.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Scripps, Ellen Browning, 1836-1932--Archives.
    Harper, J. C. (Jacob Chandler), 1858-1939--Archives.
    Scripps, E. W. (Edward Willis), 1854-1926--Archives.
    Scripps College--History--Sources.
    Scripps Institution of Oceanography--History--Sources.
    Scripps Memorial Hospital--History--Sources.

    Genres and Forms of Materials