Beyond the Shelf: Women have quite a history in La Jolla

Beyond the Shelf logo
(Daniel K. Lew)

Beyond the Shelf is a monthly column about the activities and people at the La Jolla/Riford Library.

Women’s History Month calls for the celebration of strong women, and their history in La Jolla runs deep. In the words of Ellen Browning Scripps, “The most important and beautiful gift one human being can give to another is, in some way, to make life a little better to live.”

The legacy of the “Fairy Godmother of La Jolla” lives on. On March 18, a group of young library patrons and their caregivers went on an educational tour of the La Jolla Woman’s Club, one of the many institutions founded by Scripps. “We want to pay it forward for the library,” said Tona Macken, president of the Woman’s Club.

A field trip to the La Jolla Woman's Club
A field trip to the La Jolla Woman’s Club ended with a reading of “The Tree Lady,” a book about late San Diego botanist, horticulturist and landscape architect Kate Sessions, under the oak tree that Sessions recommended be planted at the Woman’s Club.
(Courtesy of Katia Graham)

A grant from the Ellen Browning Scripps Foundation funded La Jolla Library’s new collection of children’s book kits. Each kit contains a curated selection of picture books on either a popular subject or a social-emotional learning topic. The “Transportation” and “Mindfulness” kits were among the first to be checked out. Families going through difficult situations may appreciate the “Divorce” or “Death and Loss” kits.

While not quite as famous as Scripps, Patricia Ann Schaelchlin is renowned at the library. Our History Room is named after the late archivist and rightly so, as she donated much of her personal collection to the branch. The former president of Friends of the La Jolla Library and the La Jolla Historical Society helped save three historically designated homes in La Jolla: the 1895 Craftsman-style Galusha Grow bungalow, the 1917 Horace Rhoads duplex and the 1906 Dr. Martha Dunn Corey residence, the former home of La Jolla’s first female physician.

With the History Room reopening this month, patrons can conveniently browse Schaelchlin’s body of work. She authored three books: “Newspaper Barons: A Biography of the Scripps Family” (1983); “The Little Clubhouse on Steamship Wharf: San Diego Rowing Club, 1888-1983” (1984); and “La Jolla: The Story of a Community” (1988).

Her lovingly compiled scrapbooks are my favorite. I mean, where else would you learn that there was once a tree-sitting contest on Ivanhoe Avenue in La Jolla won by a girl who spent 49 days in a tree?

Cathy Carroll currently heads Friends of the La Jolla Library and looks forward to the History Room’s reopening. “Thanks to the vision of Patricia Schaelchlin, La Jolla Library’s History Room contains a wealth of knowledge about La Jolla,” she said. “From Ellen Browning Scripps to Sally Ride and beyond, women have been making history in La Jolla since the 1800s.”

The History Room is a treasure trove of La Jolla-centric postcards, photographs, local newspaper archives and books on notable community residents.

An interesting component to our History Room is the Memory Lab, the first in the San Diego Public Library system. With the assistance of a volunteer, you can preserve your own personal and family history here by converting old photographs and videos to digital formats. As another testament to women in La Jolla, a Las Patronas grant funded the equipment used.

Katie McCormick Lelyveld (standing second from left) attends the La Jolla/Riford Library’s "Pitch Your Passion."
Katie McCormick Lelyveld (standing second from left), former press secretary for ex-first lady Michelle Obama, attends the La Jolla/Riford Library’s teen program “Pitch Your Passion” on March 19. Next to her at left is youth services librarian Katia Graham.
(Courtesy of Katia Graham)

New generations of spectacular women are inspiring La Jolla Library patrons. On March 19, local resident Katie McCormick Lelyveld, former press secretary for ex-first lady Michelle Obama, attended La Jolla Library’s signature teen program, “Pitch Your Passion,” to help embolden teenagers to make a difference in the world.

And dozens of families turned out to meet City Ballet of San Diego’s Chiara Valle, who talked to children about the hard work it takes to realize their dreams, whether they aspire to be a ballerina or pursue another profession.

I started out as a volunteer in the History Room several years ago. It’s where San Diego adopted me as part of its Volunteer, Internship and Work Readiness Program and equipped me, as the city does for so many others, to take on a new career and go back to school. I learned that Schaelchlin herself attended college and graduate school after her children graduated from high school.

San Diego Public Library’s rock star, the iconic librarian Clara Breed, had this to say about the birth of libraries in this community: “Residents of La Jolla were hungry for library service.”

We are so grateful to belong to a community of women who appreciate libraries and believe in making “life a little better to live.”

Katia Graham is the youth services librarian at the La Jolla/Riford Library and a graduate of the city of San Diego’s Volunteer, Internship and Work Readiness Program. To learn more about the program or make an appointment to visit the History Room, Memory Lab or Idea Lab, email Graham can be reached at