By Caitlin Muñoz ’26
In the south end of the Ella Strong Denison Library are 33 large drawers filled with letters, diary entries, photos, and newspaper articles. Known as the Scripps College Archives, these files document the life and achievements of Ellen Browning Scripps: a journalist, philanthropist, educator, and founder of the College. A bust of her rests atop the drawers, watching over the generations of students who have become part of her legacy.
Amalia Koch ’25 and Isabel Li ’25 devoted their summer to conducting research in this room. Under the guidance of Director and Sally Preston Swan Librarian for the Ella Strong Denison Library Jennifer Martinez Wormser ’95, they studied the Ellen Browning Scripps papers and compiled their findings on her life on an interactive website of their own design. Koch says she is glad to have had the opportunity with Denison to assemble a history she believes ought to be shared with the Scripps community.
“By choosing to come to Scripps, students are choosing to take part in a history of women’s education,” says Koch. “I think it’s important to acknowledge that someone had a vision for that, and that someone wanted to build this place where students could learn and be themselves.”
Koch and Li’s internship research was funded by a generous grant from the Josephine Stedem Scripps Foundation, a longtime supporter of the College. Having made significant financial gifts to Scripps over the last decade, says Martinez Wormser, the organization has also donated archival material from both Ellen Browning Scripps and her family members. Over the years, the foundation supported the archival processing and digitization of the collection, and Martinez Wormser suggested moving to a new phase to support student research that could “demystify Miss Scripps and her accomplishments.”
“I found that a lot of students knew the Scripps name but had little knowledge about Ellen Browning Scripps other than that she was an elderly woman who financially supported the founding of the college. I found myself thinking, ‘How can I create opportunities for students immerse themselves in her story and be paid for their research, but also help Denison’s archival goals?’” Thanks to this gift, she continues, the library has the power to support student interns’ educational process while creating a tangible historical resource.
One of Martinez Wormser’s first tasks for Li and Koch was to read one of the most comprehensive books on Miss Scripps’ life: Ellen Browning Scripps: New Money and American Philanthropy by Molly McClain. From there, Koch says it was easy for her and Li to pinpoint the specific archives they were most interested in.
For Li, Miss Scripps’ personal records held the greatest insight into her intentions and successes. By establishing Scripps next to Pomona College, the founder paved the way for the Claremont College consortium—but her reserved nature kept her from seeking greater acknowledgment for this feat.
“Most philanthropists at that time liked to tout their achievements and contributions,” says Li. “Ellen Browning Scripps was on the cover of TIME magazine after she founded Scripps College, but she wanted to avoid the spotlight. Throughout my research, there is a contrast between her personality and her many contributions and philanthropic endeavors.”
Koch’s research focused on the philanthropist’s distinct goals for the College.
“She designed a campus conducive to a very healthy, happy environment for students,” says Koch. “She designed it to be a place where women could be intellectual and study interesting and diverse subjects. I think many of her visions hold true today.”
Reflecting on their work to make Scripps’s history more accessible, Koch and Li hope that their research will impact the broader student body.
“I think most of us enjoy Scripps without being conscious of its history,” says Koch. “What I’ve taken from this experience is that it’s important to acknowledge Ellen Browning Scripps for her hand in our education.”
Taking their research on the road to a wider audience, Koch and Li will present the results of their work at the Southern California Conference for Undergraduate Research in November. Martinez Wormser is delighted that the pair’s research is discoverable online ahead of the College’s coming centennial in 2026, calling their efforts an exemplar of what Scripps does best: humanities-based, student-driven learning.
“Isabel and Amalia worked independently and collaboratively to drive much of the decision-making on this project, and they developed the critical framework to make her story accessible through the archival records,” she says. “The story of our founder should resonate with people, and they’ve created a more robust digital narrative of her life that will serve as a resource at Scripps and beyond.”