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San Diego County Women's Hall of Fame 2007 Inductees
2007 "Spirit" of the Women's Hall of Fame Award Joan Embery. Born in San Diego in 1949 Joan Embery spent her childhood camping under the stars, hiking the canyons and watching the sun set. Although she is allergic to animals and is afraid of bugs, she has trained and handled some of the world's rarest and most unusual animals, from aardvarks to zebras. She is also a champion of environmental, conservation and preservation issues around the world.

While at San Diego State University Joan specialized in zoology and telecommunications and completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication at Eastern Illinois University.  She has spent most of her life being a spokeswoman for the Zoological Society of San Diego (which includes the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park), educating the public about the wildlife and environment by making appearances on television, doing radio interviews, speaking engagements and performing animal presentations.

Her love for the wildlife has taken her to such exotic places as Africa, China, Nepal, India, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Thailand and the Amazon.  As she once stated, she “enjoys traveling to all parts of the world to observe animals in their natural habitats.”

Additionally, Joan has served on many boards focusing on conservation and wildlife issues such as Morris Animal Foundation, Wildlife Health Center School of Veterinary Medicine UC Davis, San Diego River Park Foundation, Anza-Borrego Foundation, Project Wildlife (advisory board), Blue Sky Community Foundation, and as a participant or instructor for Envirovet. She has also received numerous awards for her dedication to the animals and the environment and has authored four books on these topics; My Wild World, Amazing Animal Facts, On Horses and The Good Dog Book.

In 2004 Joan established The Embery Institute for Wildlife Conservation with the hope of connecting people to wildlife and conservation issues and making people aware of the role each individual plays in insuring healthy environments. It is for her devotion to the wildlife and the environment as well as her overwhelmingly positive representation of the San Diego community that we welcome Joan Embery as the 2007 Spirit of the Women’s Hall of Fame.


Ellen Browning Scripps
(deceased). Ellen Browning Scripps created a newspaper empire with her brother and went on to become a philanthropist-activist for women and to improve San Diegans’ lives.  In the mid-19th century, she was a teacher as a young woman until she went to Detroit to build a newspaper with her brother James.  By providing her savings, talent and hard work, the fledgling Detroit News became immensely successful.  Ellen was one of the four Scripps siblings who created a newspaper publishing empire.  She told Time magazine in 1926 that “she regarded her wealth as a trust for the benefit of humanity.”  Indeed, unlike ostentatious millionaires of the time, her personal spending was minimal compared to her donations.  She refused to own an automobile until she could not turn down one as a gift.  She founded the La Jolla Women’s Club to expand women’s public participation, and when women could not afford to join, she penned a note, “Please accept membership as a present from me….”   She once discovered a homeless artist and commissioned him to make volumes of paintings. She provided for the worlds largest aviary for the new Balboa Park.   Her contributions included the San Diego Community Welfare Building, the La Jolla playground (stipulating that it must be a free speech area), Scripps Memorial Hospital, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  She was an advocate of women’s suffrage and of women’s burgeoning role in society.  Her vision for a college ideally suited for women became Scripps Women’s College in Claremont.  When it opened in 1926, she was 90 years old, and she referred to the institution as her "new adventure."


Belle Benchley (deceased). Belle Jennings Benchley led the San Diego Zoo to an international showplace when she became the world’s first and only female zoo “directrix” in 1927.  For 26 years she was manager, organizer, promoter, fundraiser, author, and an international leader in animal behavior and zoo administration.  In 1925, she was a divorced former teacher needing support for herself and son.  She was hired as the Zoo bookkeeper and began taking lunches in and around the zoo.  When she found problems, she reported them, often to Zoo founder and Board President, Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth.  In 1927, after four undesirable Zoo Managers, Wegeforth appointed Benchley Manager and Executive Secretary—the Zoo’s top position. “Go ahead and run the place,” he said, “you’re doing it anyway.”  And she did, until her retirement in 1953.  Benchley loved animals and wanted San Diegans to appreciate them.  During her leadership, annual attendance increased by 4.5 times and its budget by more than 7 times. Benchley’s animal devotion was legendary.  She could sometimes detect an animal illness before the keepers or vets, believing it just didn’t “look quite right.”  Her commitment to animals extended throughout the world.  She became renown as an expert in animal behavior and zoo strategies.  She served on committees of the American Zoological Association and was its first woman president; she was a member of the International Union of Directors of Zoological Gardens. She was the author of several books, including My Life in a Man Made Jungle, the memoir My Animal Babies and the children’s book Shirley Visits the Zoo.  Author Margery Facklam included Benchley in her discussion of 11 influential women who studied animals, placing her with the more widely known Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey.

In 1930 Benchley told Time Magazine:  “They spoiled the world’s best cook to make a zoo director out of me.  I do not see why more women do not go in for it.”


Clara Estelle Breed (deceased). Clara Estelle Breed, beloved librarian for 42 years, created San Diego’s county-wide “Serra” lending system we all enjoy today.  She is most notably remembered, however, for the impact she had upon children she dearly loved.  During World War II, over 120,000 Japanese were forced from their homes and possessions and placed into internment camps; Breed was a children’s librarian.  Outraged, she wrote in protest and sent books, clothing and candy to children in the Japanese internment camps.  She handed children pre-addressed, stamped postcards as they were shepherded onto trains, asking them to write her.  She corresponded with hundreds of children, saving over 250 letters from them.  She visited camps, wrote journals and articles, and retained mementoes of her moving Japanese-American friendships.  “Dear Miss Breed,” all the letters to her began.  Ted Hirasaki wrote her from Poston, Arizona, in 1942,  “How are you? Thanks ever so much for the wonderful letter. (would you mind if I showed it to some friends?)… Life is beginning to settle down to the monotonous regularity that is truly depressing. People have gotten so that they don't leave their own block. Let alone leave their ‘home.’”   In the 1990s Breed gave her historic collections to one of her former correspondents, who then donated them to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.  There, and on the Museum’s website, we can witness first-hand how one woman built bridges and made a difference to so many during a dark chapter in U.S. history.


Sister Patricia Shaffer, Ph.D.
has spent her career helping women in San Diego County.  She has encouraged women to study science as a research chemist, university professor, nun, and member of scientific associations.  She first became a chemistry instructor in 1959 at the San Diego College for Women, continuing at the University of San Diego to the present day as an innovative teacher, professor and active member of the campus community and ministry.  In organizations such as Graduate Women in Science and the Association for Women in Science, she has been a leader and mentor within the male-dominated discipline of chemistry.  She has served as a role model and inspiration by rising to prominence in her career as a research chemist and recipient of dozens of grants and fellowships worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many grants have been from the American Chemical Society’s SEED Program (Summer Experience for the Economically Disadvantaged) that provides opportunities for high school students to learn on the job.  Her important research on asparaginase, an enzyme used in leukemia chemotherapy, will continue to help fight this disease.  Her influence extends beyond the world of chemistry--as a nun in the Religious of the Sacred Heart, a teaching order--and in her concern for children:  she works for orphanages in Tijuana and with migrant children in California farming communities.  She is also a leader in USD’s Founder’s Club, an organization of USD’s Religious of the Sacred Heart devoted to community service.


Sara "Madre Sarita" Macias Vasquez
is a 97-year-old indigenous Mexican immigrant healer and teacher who carries on traditions of spiritual healing in Toltec, curanderismo and other holistic native healing traditions.  Raised by her Toltec grandparents (her grandfather was a community “shaman” in rural Jalisco), she became a wife and mother at 15 and had 13 children.  She worked in and outside of the home, putting several of them through college.  She describes herself as someone who does spiritual work, healing through her hands and prayers.  She is recognized by thousands as gifted, presenting to audiences as diverse as UCSD physicians and various-sized groups of followers throughout California, Tijuana, and Texas.  She was interviewed by local San Diego and Tijuana television to share insights about her more than 40 years of teaching and healing.  She has also empowered women by holistically attending to their “bodymindspirit,” and convincing them to have faith in themselves:  Si se puede – yes, it’s possible, is the message she instills in them.  Having overcome obstacles in her own life, she is a powerful mentor.  She is currently writing her autobiography and participating in oral histories, fully conscious of the significance of her knowledge for future generations.



Tanja Winter
has been a tireless activist and organizer for peace and justice in San Diego for 35 years.  Since her childhood escape from Nazi Germany, she has been a community activist and coalition leader who pounded the pavement and government offices for equal rights, empowerment, prison reform, global disarmament, environmental protection and peace.  Her commitment to world peace led her to some of the most effective anti-nuclear demonstrations and world conferences in the past half century.  For example, “Women Strike for Peace” began in 1961 when thousands of women left their restricted boundaries of home and job for a one-day strike against nuclear arms.  This led to a nation-wide movement that was so effective that the House Un-American Activities Committee summoned the WSP leaders for a hearing, accusing them of communism.  Upstaging the Committee, the activists made fools of the Congressmen.  From letter-writing, to organizing events to sending out informational emails, Tanja Winter’s life work has been to bring the issues of peace and justice to the forefront of world consciousness.  She founded:  Children of Chernobyl to bring children from the contaminated areas to San Diego each summer; “Nica Solidarity” and “Friends of Nicaraguan Culture,” solidarity activities for Nicaragua; the Community Energy Action Network, promoting renewable energy sources while opposing nuclear power and weapons.  Today, she is also a facilitator for “Hands of Peace,” a project of “Alternatives to Violence,” leading workshops about creative conflict resolution, self-esteem building, personal empowerment, and community building.  Now 80, she is most active in two organizations she help create:  the Peace & Democracy Action Group and Activist San Diego, both grassroots organizations devoted mobilizing the public for peace, justice, and equality.




The mission of the San Diego County Women's Hall of Fame is to acknowledge and honor women who have significantly contributed to the quality of life and who have made outstanding volunteer contributions in San Diego County.

General Information:

The purpose of the annual induction of five women into the Hall of Fame is to make women's actions and accomplishments visible in San Diego. The women honored every year will be remembered for their efforts in a Hall of Fame exhibit housed at the Women's History Reclamation Project. The annual induction is also a forum for coalition building between the four co-hosts and dozens of women's organizations representing San Diego's diverse population. The annual induction is also a fund-raising signature event for the four Co-Hosts including the following:

Women's History Museum and Educational Center is a museum, library and archive with a mission to educate and inspire present and future generations about the contributions of women. It preserves, shares, and integrates women's stories for a more complete understanding of history
The County of San Diego Commission on the Status of Women, established in 1970, is mandated to study and advise the Board of Supervisors on the needs and problems of women and to eliminate the practice of discrimination and prejudice on the basis of gender.
San Diego State University's Women's Studies Department, the nation's first women's studies department, established in 1970, offers a BA, MA and Post-baccalaureate Certificate. It has a reputation for excellence in curriculum, faculty, community involvement, and international scholarly liaisons.
The Women's Center, University of California, San Diego provides education and support on gender issues affecting the UCSD and general communities. The Center advances women's intellectual, professional, and personal goals to increase awareness of issues affecting women and men.


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