In photographs, the indomitable Ellen Browning Scripps looks like the kind of wealthy matron who’d know which fork to use and how to discipline any servant who didn’t.
She did indeed have a sharp tongue. But as University of San Diego historian Molly McClain has discovered, Scripps was hardly a model of snooty upper-class propriety. She had horrible handwriting, couldn’t care less about fashionable clothes and promoted the rights of women long before they had a prayer of getting the vote.
She even landed on the cover of Time Magazine at a time when women made few appearances there.
Almost eight decades after her death in 1932, examples of the newspaper magnate’s legacy can be found across San Diego: an oceanography institution, a hospital chain, museums, schools and even a beach.
I sat down with McClain, co-editor of The Journal of San Diego History, at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla to talk about what she’s discovered about Scripps while researching a biography that she plans to finish in a few years. (Scripps, who lived in La Jolla and was devoted to it, founded The Bishop’s School.)
McClain, by the way, has deep ties to our fair city. She’s a ninth-generation San Diegan: Her family dates back to Juan Francisco López, a Spanish soldier who moved here in 1769 when Father Junipero Serra founded the mission.