Centennial Crossroads: La Jolla Woman’s Club marks 100 years by looking ahead to 100 more

By Ashley Mackin

As the La Jolla Woman’s Club prepares for its centennial in the historic Irving Gill building at 7791 Draper Ave. in October, club members are planning the next 100 years, and the many ways they can honor its mission and core values, while addressing contemporary needs.

In its infancy in the 1890s, La Jolla Woman’s Club meetings were held at members’ homes or local churches. By 1913, tired of the venue changes, member and La Jolla patroness Ellen Browning Scripps contracted architect Irving Gill to draw up plans for a permanent clubhouse. In October 1914, the first meeting was held in the “new” facility.

What started as a literary club and place for women to discuss current events evolved into a political hub, with members active in issues such as the right to vote, world war times, improving the lives of children, health and education.

And they continue to progress — so much so that the Clubhouse hosted its first lesbian wedding in mid-July. “It’s important for us to stay fresh and be open minded,” said House Director Pat McGill. “The ladies of the past would have a heart attack if they heard that, but we have evolved.”

Club President Mithu Sherin added, “We’ve asked ourselves what the next 100 years are going to be about, and we are still working on formulating that mission so it is congruent with our current and potential membership. I think we’ll take the next year or two to refine our vision.”

However, members know they want to take the core social and educational aspects at the club’s roots and modernize them for today’s women. The club currently offers its members monthly luncheons, bridge and book clubs and yoga classes.

To pay the bills, the building is marketed as a beautiful wedding venue. Hoping to bring monthly gatherings into the 21st century, one idea is to make the social hours in the evenings.

“A lot of women work now and can’t take an hour-and-a half off during the day for lunch,” Sherin said. “So we’re thinking of having after-work networking events. Today’s women today are busy and to attract those busy people, you have to offer something to them, such as networking opportunities (or discussions on issues of the day).”

The Club board is also considering offering open house hours in the evening. Currently, the open house hours are on Fridays and Saturdays.

Sherin also said she is exploring a new mom’s group. “I know there are groups in other states where new mothers can come together and talk with each other,” she said. “Whether they are a new mom or transitioning from having one child to multiple children, they can talk about things that are affecting them and learn from other mothers who have been there and know what they’re going through.”

Historian Merle Lotherington noted that having a diverse membership is important so different perspectives are available.

“Your life can change during the course of your membership,” she said. “You can go from a single working person to a married working person to a new mom, and someone will always be here who knows how you feel.”

To focus on the health and education aspect, held so dear to “Miss Ellen” Browning Scripps, the club’s board members are also exploring lectures and seminars pertinent to women’s wellbeing.

“We need to bring these issues to the forefront,” McGill said. “Our membership goes up as high as age 95, so health issues are crucial and need to be addressed.”

Sherin added there is a lot in the realm of women’s health that is not widely known, and with science and technology developing daily, there is always more to learn. As an example, she said she only recently discovered that drug dosages are not formulated differently for men and women — and they should be.

“Drugs are tested for men’s bodies. The FDA never required drug-makers look at the differences in metabolism and how men’s bodies and women’s bodies might react to the same dosage,” she said. “It was shocking to me that you would get a drug approved without considering women’s biology and metabolism.”

With this focus, Lotherington said they are “honoring Miss Ellen’s vision.” Noting the plethora of health experts that

might be available through UCSD, Sherin said the evening lecture series would help bring people through the doors in the future.

Second Vice President Michelle Talcott insisted that once people do visit the building, they would want to come back. “There is a special mystique about this place,” she said.

But it isn’t always easy to maintain. Over the last 30 years, the club’s focus has been having enough in the coffer through memberships and weddings to keep the doors open and the lights on.

Sherin said that although brides appreciate the sense of privacy from the high walls and foliage-covered fences, having the building pseudo-hidden also hides it from potential visitors or members.

“People think this is a private club or someone’s house,” she said.

To ease the stress of building maintenance, the board is considering establishing a foundation — with a separate board — and applying for 501(c)(3) non-profit status. Should they have a separate fund for maintenance costs, they could focus other monies on whatever members deem important.

With a current membership of about 120, Talcott, who is in charge of increasing the fold, noted, “We want to open our club doors to the women in La Jolla, get them in here so they can become members and help carry on the mission and be a part of the next 100 years.”

For events information, call Sharlene Thompson at (858) 454-2354.

Woman’s Club Anniversary Dinner

■ To toast the building’s centennial and attract new members, the Woman’s Club will host a dinner 5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17 (almost 100 years to the day of the first meeting at the clubhouse, Oct. 5, 1914) with music, a speaker and slideshow. Tickets will go on sale in late August at

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To Join La Jolla Woman’s Club

■ Attend two events

■ Be sponsored by a current member

■ Pay annual dues of $50

■ Call Andrea Mau at (858) 273-0407