Ellen Browning Scripps created a newspaper empire with her brother and went on to become a philanthropist-activist for women and to improve San Diegans’ lives. In the mid-19th century, she was a teacher as a young woman until she went to Detroit to build a newspaper with her brother James. By providing her savings, talent and hard work, the fledgling Detroit News became immensely successful. Ellen was one of the four Scripps siblings who created a newspaper publishing empire. She told Time magazine in 1926 that “she regarded her wealth as a trust for the benefit of humanity.”
Indeed, unlike ostentatious millionaires of the time, her personal spending was minimal compared to her donations. She refused to own an automobile until she could not turn down one as a gift. She founded the La Jolla Women’s Club to expand women’s public participation, and when women could not afford to join, she penned a note, “Please accept membership as a present from me….” She once discovered a homeless artist and commissioned him to make volumes of paintings. She provided for the worlds largest aviary for the new Balboa Park. Her contributions included the San Diego Community Welfare Building, the La Jolla playground (stipulating that it must be a free speech area), Scripps Memorial Hospital, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She was an advocate of women’s suffrage and of women’s burgeoning role in society. Her vision for a college ideally suited for women became Scripps Women’s College in Claremont. When it opened in 1926, she was 90 years old, and she referred to the institution as her "new adventure."