Asilomar was founded thanks to the YWCA and the cooperative efforts of many hard-working and dedicated women. But, the following ladies were the most influential during the founding period and throughout Asilomar's formative years.
Their grand ideas and high ideals were matched only by their ability to turn those dreams into reality -- to make Asilomar a reality.
Phoebe Apperson Hearst (1842-1919)
Phoebe Apperson was born on a farm in Missouri. But when she married George Hearst, her life changed dramatically. George amassed a fortune in silver mines, and Phoebe took her first steps into philanthropy by building field hospitals and free kindergartens for the miners' children. Throughout her life, she financially supported education programs and student scholarships, hospitals, scientific expeditions and research, libraries, museums, and charities.
In 1912, Phoebe was instrumental in assisting with the founding of Asilomar when she opened her home as an encampment for the YWCA's® annual conference, and embraced the YWCA's Pacific Coast Field Committee's idea for a permanent conference facility and summer camp on the west coast.
The Pacific Improvement Company (the Monterey area assets of which became the basis for the current Pebble Beach Company) donated 30 acres of land. The YWCA hired architect Julia Morgan to design the buildings. Hearst then gifted all the furnishings from the encampment held at her home, and financially supported the first structures to be built on the grounds.
The Administration Building was opened in 1913 and dedicated as the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall.
Grace Hoadley Dodge (1856-1914)
Grace Dodge was the oldest of six children born to a wealthy New York family. Although she was denied the opportunity to go to college or to join her father’s vast business empire because it was “not proper” for a woman of that time, she nevertheless found ways to actively participate in women’s issues of the day. For forty years, Grace dedicated herself to improving the lives of women.
She established the Industrial Education Association in 1884; self-governing clubs such as the Working Girls Society, which fostered education, health, and recreation programs; and the New York college for Training of teachers, chartered in 1889. Grace was elected first president of the National YWCA® in 1905. Her first order of business was to unite a divided national and international YWCA®.
With Grace Dodge as mediator, a working agreement was reached in which both groups began to function as a joint committee under one membership, becoming one entity. Although Grace never visited Asilomar, it was she who gave the final approval for its construction. The Chapel Auditorium, built in 1915, was dedicated to Grace H. Dodge.
Ellen Browning Scripps (1836-1932)
Ellen Scripps was born in London, England, but moved to Rushville, Illinois at the age of eight. By her late teens, she was teaching school and had saved enough money to send herself through nearby Knox College.
In 1856, she became one of the first women in the United States to attend college. After graduating in 1859, she returned to Rushville where she partnered with her brother James, and became a journalist and publisher, building a newspaper empire of 24 major papers.
By 1896, Ellen had amassed a fortune, and regarded her wealth as "a trust for the benefit of humanity." Her move to La Jolla, California set the stage for the philanthropic legacy that was to follow. Although she visited Asilomar only once -- in 1916 at the age of 83 -- she was greatly impressed with the work being done there and donated money to purchase land adjacent to the grounds to expand the facility.
She then set up trusts to ensure that any YWCA® college student or high school Girl Reserve from southern California could afford to attend Asilomar. In 1927, the Scripps Lodge Annex was dedicated to Ellen Scripps for her humanitarian work on behalf of the YWCA®.
Mary Sroufe Merrill (1853-1924)
Mary Sroufe was born in Diamond Springs, in El Dorado County, California. Her family moved to San Francisco in 1869, and Mary attended Mills Seminary at Benicia. She married wholesale hardware merchant John Francis Merrill in 1874, and they had six children, four surviving into adulthood.
When their home was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Merrills moved to a ranch in Atherton, California, a small town on the San Francisco peninsula just north of San Jose. While raising her children, Mary managed to become a very influential leader in San Francisco society.
Her impressive credentials as a founder and member of numerous charitable institutions are far too lengthy for inclusion here. She sat on the first board of directors of the California Red Cross® and was also president of the San Francisco Red Cross, which considered itself "most fortunate in having as a leader one so wise as well as gentle, one who could be firm and courteous at the same time, and who was willing to give her waking hours almost entirely to the work of her exacting position."
Mary was also one of the founders of a society called the Pacific Dispensary for Women and Children, which has evolved since its inception in 1875 to today's Children's Hospital on California Street in San Francisco. Mary also managed to find time to serve as the director of the San Francisco YWCA®, and in that role attended the 1912 meeting that sparked the founding of Asilomar.
She became Asilomar’s first director in 1913, a post she held for eleven years. She donated monies to support the building of Lodge, Stuck-up Inn (Hilltop), Health Cottage (Viewpoint), and Pirates’ Den (Tide Inn). On her death, Mary bequeathed $25,000 to Asilomar. In 1928, architect Julia Morgan used that money to complete her largest and last building at Asilomar, Merrill Hall