Ettie Lee was a high school English teacher in the Los Angeles area who noticed that some of her brightest students came from troubled homes and ended up in jail. When she noticed no agency offered these young men help, she decided to do something about it herself.
Ettie was born on November 2, 1885, in Luna Valley, New Mexico. She was one of twelve children and her mother died when she was a baby. She learned much from her father who lived his life helping the less fortunate. He moved the family to Thatcher, Arizona, when Ettie was fifteen. After an education at Gila Academy, she began teaching in a small schoolroom—she was seventeen years at the time. Even then she noticed the needs of one boy who had been expelled and worked to help him turn his life around.
After teaching for three years, she graduated from Northern Arizona Normal School and began teaching at Gila Academy—one of her students was Spencer W. Kimball. She left Arizona in 1914, earned her master’s degree from the University of Southern California in 1917, and began teaching in the Los Angeles area. She noticed young men who struggled with life’s challenges and responded by writing English textbooks that were used in the school district. When she decided to do something to help the abused and neglected young men by providing them with happy homes, she knew she needed money so she went to her library and found a book on how to buy and sell real estate. She saved $100 a month—half of her monthly salary—and using the techniques the book outlined, she bought a vacant lot for $1000 and sold it for $5000.
That successful beginning in 1927 encouraged her and she soon had nine single-family dwellings that she rented. She managed to continue acquiring and selling real estate throughout the Depression. During World War II she temporarily returned to teaching. She purchased five ranches for future homes for at-risk boys. In 1946, she retired from teaching and by 1950 she was ready to start operation.
At first her homes had home parents—a married couple with experience working with children—who would teach the boys how to become productive citizens while loving and supporting them. Her company, Ettie Lee Youth and Family Services, continues today, but no longer functions with home parent couples—the last retired in 2012.
Ettie was recognized for her life’s work in various ways; she was named Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year in 1965, National Teacher of the Year in 1966, and Brigham Young University’s Woman of the Year in 1967. She died on April 25, 1974.
Susan Easton Black and Mary Jane Woodger, Women of Character (American Fork, Utah: Covenant, 2011)