San Diego’s Historical Female Influencers

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With International Women’s Day celebrated annually in March, it’s a good time to recognize some of San Diego’s most influential and historical women. This selection of leading ladies, among others, has made significant contributions to San Diego and has left a lasting impact on its history inspiring future generations of girls and women to make a positive impact in their communities and the world.

Kate Sessions. Known as the “Mother of Balboa Park,” Sessions was a horticulturist and botanist who played a crucial role in the development of the park’s famous gardens and landscapes. She was hired by the city in 1892 to create a park, and Balboa Park is the result of her vision. One of the first successful U.S. woman landscape architects, she is credited with introducing many new and exotic plants to the park, which helped establish its reputation as one of the world’s premier botanical gardens.

Ellen Browning Scripps. Born in England, Scripps was a philanthropist and newspaper publisher and a major patron of the arts and sciences in San Diego and was instrumental in forming many of the city’s cultural institutions. She was a founding member of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and played a key role in establishing the San Diego Natural History Museum and the La Jolla Playhouse. Additionally, she co-founded the publishing company, Scripps-McRae Press.

Countess Lillian Westgate Lee. Lee was a socialite and passionate philanthropist during the early 20th century in San Diego and was a leading figure in San Diego’s cultural and civic life. She played a key role in establishing and supporting many of the city’s cultural institutions, including the San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Symphony Orchestra, the San Diego Opera and the San Diego Theatre Guild.

Theresa Loeffler. A teacher and community leader, Loeffler advocated for education and women’s rights in early 20th-century San Diego. She played a key role in the establishment of the city’s first high school for girls and was a founding member of the San Diego Women’s Club. She was a patron of the San Diego Symphony, a founder of the San Diego Opera, and she also helped establish the San Diego Museum of Art.

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