Belen Yudess ’25
Social Media Manager
In 2026, Scripps will be celebrating its 100th birthday. The college, founded in 1926 by esteemed journalist Ellen Browning Scripps, is the second oldest campus in the Claremont consortium. It only trails Pomona, which was established in 1887. To commemorate the occasion, Scripps alumna Suzanne Muchnic ’62 is writing a book that will narrate the college’s past 100 years.
Muchnic, who was a long-time art writer for the Los Angeles Times and has written books about many famous names in the art community, has been busy conducting interviews, doing research, and exploring Denison’s archives in preparation for this grand undertaking. Although this is a daunting task, Muchnic’s enthusiasm and experience are sure to make this book a 10 out of cenTENial read!
Muchnic had several motivations for this project, including her personal connection with the school, and Scripps’ standing as a historically women’s college. “Within this context of women’s colleges, which is a really fascinating subject in and of itself… Scripps is a relatively young college… but it’s remarkable because it’s a survivor and there aren’t really all that many other survivors at this point,” said Muchnic. “Then, of course, my own experience going to a college like Scripps. I was a scholarship student, I couldn’t have gone without a scholarship and I’ve continued to support the college because I really want other young women to have as productive an experience as I had.”
Muchnic is originally from Iowa and moved to California in her junior year of high school. As she was new to the area, Muchnic needed guidance about where she should apply for college. Luckily, she had an uncle whose niece had attended Scripps, which led to her application and eventual acceptance into the school.
“I walked onto the campus… and people were friendly, and I got to meet some of the professors and so on,” she said. “I was just blown away… and if you can believe it, tuition at that time was less than $2,000.”
When Muchnic was a current student, the Claremont Consortium consisted solely of Scripps, Pomona, Claremont McKenna, and the newly built Harvey Mudd. Similar to today, each college had its respective reputation regarding its most popular major. For example, CMC was very business-oriented whereas Mudd was geared towards STEM.
Scripps, on the other hand, was based in the humanities. Muchnic noted that this approach, coupled with the confidence she received from attending Scripps, allowed her to pursue an unintended career in journalism. “I think there’s something in Scripps… I mean, women have to be pretty flexible by nature… but I think it helps if you’ve gone to a school where you don’t just have these prescribed career paths,” she said.
Following her graduation from Scripps and graduate school, Muchnic worked as an art teacher for public schools in Southern California. Although she was very fond of teaching, Muchnic knew it wasn’t the right fit for her. “I enjoyed it, but I knew that was not going to be my life,” she said.
When the Vietnam War began, Muchnic moved to Utah to join her husband, a Pomona graduate who was an orthopedist for the army. Muchnic decided to return to teaching for the Utah school district, but there was one catch: she was overqualified. “One funny thing is that I applied to be a teacher and they would not hire me because I had a master’s degree,” said Muchnic. “A master’s degree [meant] they would have to pay me an extra hundred dollars. I was also a woman and in Utah at that time… it [was] a very Mormon state, and men got a first chance at everything.”
However, Muchnic’s forced departure from secondary education allowed her to pick up a new career from a local newspaper ad.
“It didn’t even say what the job was, but you had to know how to write and take photographs,” she said. “I had been in a photography class, and I thought, I can do that. Very soon after that, I ended up as the editor of three weekly newspapers. It would never [have] happened anywhere else, but they needed a college-educated person who could spell. And I was good at spelling and grammar.”
The paper focused primarily on community news, but it allowed Muchnic to realize her passion for writing. When she returned to California, Muchnic landed a job working for a small paper called Art Week, which introduced her to the Los Angeles art scene.
Her publications also garnered the attention of the Los Angeles Times, which invited her to be a freelancer. From there, her career skyrocketed, and after a year, Muchnic was promoted to a full-time art writer, a role she held for 32 years.
“I think Scripps gives you that sense that there aren’t any real boundaries if you really dig in and do the work,” said Muchnic. “I mean, the opportunities have to come up. I can’t be too gullible about that. I was very fortunate in having these opportunities arise at the right time in my life… I feel like Scripps definitely equips you with that confidence to be like, even though I don’t know how to do this now, I can figure out how to do it later.”
Muchnic’s research for the centennial book has caused her to shift gears in her writing style and subject matter but has also allowed her to further reflect on several aspects of her Scripps experience, such as dorm culture. “Those days students almost always stayed in the same residence hall the whole time… You really were put into a living situation that became almost like an enlarged family,” said Muchnic. “You would have freshman corridor, sophomore corridor, and so on… We certainly formed long-term friendships with a lot of these people.”
Aside from dorm life, there were also several clubs and communities that students could join, a few of which are still present at the 5Cs today. “There was an organization called Orus, which may still exist and it was a dance program,” Muchnic said. “It was pretty serious. There were people who were interested in acting and producing plays and they did that. Then there was also a ski club… and I believe languages had clubs for German, Spanish, and French.”
Muchnic has not only been using her own accounts for this book, but has also reached out to past faculty, board members, and alumni to aid her in capturing a full picture of Scripps’ history. This list includes Nancy Beckerback, who is considered the college’s first female president. “She came in in 1990 and she stayed for, I believe 13 years, a good long time,” Muchnic said. “And she’s really important because there was a time when the college needed to make a lot of changes and a lot of them were painful. She’s a really tough person. And she just marched in and did what she thought had to be done, sometimes offending people along the way, but a lot of changes had to be made.”
Muchnic’s book is scheduled to be released in 2026. Although she still has much work to do, she is excited about the collaborative element of the piece, and the light it will shine on Scripps’ rich history. “I just want all these voices in there,” she said. “People will say things in different and surprising ways that really make it come to life.”
Image Source: KCET