Ellen Kanner was born in 1945 in Brooklyn, New York, and lived there until she was four years old, after which her family moved to Valley Stream, New York. Her paternal grandparents were immigrants from Ukraine; her grandfather helped to found the Tree of Life synagogue in Alden Terrace, Valley Stream, where the family was very involved. Ellen attended Smith College, where she graduated in 1967 with a B.A. in Latin American studies. She got married six weeks after she graduated. She then moved on to get a Master's in Teaching from Johns Hopkins University. Ellen taught at Northwestern High School in Baltimore while she earned her Master's and then moved back to New York. She also spent a lot of time in Spain, studying abroad there in college and visiting more than 50 times throughout her life. Ellen was involved in Consciousness-Raising groups centered around feminism, participating in over ten groups worldwide at different points in her life.
Ellen begins by talking about her early life and her family. She spent the first four years of her life in Brooklyn, New York, but spent most of her youth in Valley Stream with her extended family. Her grandfather helped found the synagogue in Valley Stream, and the entire family engaged in the synagogue community. She also attended a few Jewish summer camps, which were memorable experiences. Ellen grew up with many expectations put upon her as the oldest child in the family, the main one being that she would go to college. She discusses her time as a student at Smith College in the 1960s and how being a part of a community of intelligent and passionate women was very influential in her life. Ellen also studied in Spain during her junior year and eventually received a Master's in Teaching from Johns Hopkins University. Ellen describes her experience in CR (Consciousness-raising) groups after college, which she participated in worldwide throughout her adult life; these groups proved a safe space where Ellen and other members could speak freely about their lives and feminism. Ellen passionately discusses the beauty of sisterhood and the power of connection between women.