by President Lori Bettison-Varga
The theme of this issue of Scripps Magazine has me thinking about when I became a mother, and the demanding days and nights juggling three children and working toward my career in higher education. While my path was made easier by the trailblazing working mothers who came before me, and who had much more difficult societal barriers to cross than I, it is still a challenge for mothers to raise their children while having a job outside the home. Support systems are essential, but even with ample support (and my family provided some of the best), many women wrestle with the question of whether or not they should stay at home or go to work.
How, then, did the first women trustees at Scripps College struggle with balancing careers and family in a time when few opted for that course?
Scripps College was founded just after World War I when women were beginning to successfully challenge the norms of society. Women had had the right to vote for less than a decade; only a handful of women’s colleges existed; and ellen Browning Scripps was one of a small but growing group of extremely successful and powerful woman in business and philanthropy.
In those early days, Scripps College was designed as an experiment in women’s education. Already established women’s colleges were structured on the premise that their curricula should be identical in structure to that at respected men’s institutions. Yet, Scripps College took a philosophically different approach, embracing the inherent differences in a women-only learning environment.
Indeed, the inspiration for the experiment was ellen Browning Scripps, who had definite ideas about the purpose of education from her own college and life experiences. But it was the first Scripps College Board of Trustees — half of which was women — that pragmatically assumed women of their day ultimately needed to be prepared to balance both work and family. The faculty then designed a curriculum that emphasized critical thinking in an open and supportive community as the best preparation for life. As a result, a Scripps College woman could obtain the “fullest and richest life… as well as the chance to give to society her greatest contribution.”
Since Scripps’ founding in 1926, women’s political, social, and economic standing has evolved — society no longer assumes the demanding days and a woman must have to be successful, although the debate about the impact of working mothers on society is still vociferous and, unfortunately, divisive.
Women have careers that would have been unimaginable 50 years ago. And, as we continue to wrestle with the issues of gender, Scripps College remains a place where women challenge assumptions, explore their options, and make choices about how they might contribute to society and be leaders in their communities.
What the original trustees and faculty of the College envisioned as an environment where women would come together in a unique, supportive community through a curriculum devoted to knowledge and understanding continues to be realized today. Scripps College encourages women to achieve their dreams as they define them, not as they are defined by others.
I know that each and every Scripps College woman leaves our campus better equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century, and to decide how she intends to live out her own vision of the work/life balance.
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