Ellen Browning Scripps: New Money and American Philanthropy

Ellen Browning Scripps: New Money and American Philanthropy

Ellen Browning Scripps: New Money and American Philanthropy

Ellen Browning Scripps: New Money and American Philanthropy


Molly McClain tells the remarkable story of Ellen Browning Scripps (1836–1932), an American newspaperwoman, feminist, suffragist, abolitionist, and social reformer who used her fortune to support women’s education, the labor movement, and public access to science, the arts, and education.

Born in London, Scripps grew up in rural poverty on the Illinois prairie. She went from rags to riches, living out that cherished American story in which people pull themselves up by their bootstraps with audacity, hard work, and luck. She and her brother E.W. Scripps built America’s largest chain of newspapers, linking Midwestern industrial cities with booming towns in the West. Less well known today than the papers started by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, Scripps newspapers transformed their owners into millionaires almost overnight.

By the 1920s Scripps was worth an estimated $30 million, most of which she gave away. She established the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, and appeared on the cover of Time magazine after founding Scripps College in Claremont, California. She also provided major financial support to organizations worldwide that promised to advance democratic principles and public education.

In Ellen Browning Scripps McClain brings to life an extraordinary woman who played a vital role in the history of women, California, and the American West.


California, 1903.

She was a plain woman. Soft-spoken, with only a trace of an English accent. Just over sixty-six years old, she attracted little interest among the travelers on the train that wound its way along the Pacific Coast from the seaside colony of La Jolla to its terminus in San Diego, California. Her clothes, though expensive, were several years out of date.

Then she smiled. Her face softened, and the lines around her eyes creased with pleasure at the sight of three small children seated on a horse-drawn wagon. When the train stopped at the station, she rose quickly, went to the door, and waved.

Startled, a fellow passenger nearly said aloud, “Oh, how beautiful she is!”

The woman was Ellen Browning Scripps. in her youth, she had been an editor, a writer, and an active supporter of women’s suffrage. She worked alongside hard-drinking journalists in Detroit newsrooms and campaigned for Susan B. Anthony. a shrewd businesswoman, she invested her money in the rapidly expanding Scripps chain of newspapers until she became a millionaire several times over. Like other nineteenthcentury women, she endured the kind of discrimination one can only . . .

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