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Women’s History Month Feature: Ellie Lottinville

Women’s History Month Feature: Ellie Lottinville

In honor of Women's History Month, Touchmark launched an initiative to identify and recognize exceptional female residents who defied the odds in their professional and personal lives to pursue opportunities that were historically off-limits for women. Please enjoy the story of Ellie Lottinville, a resident at Touchmark at Coffee Creek.

Please tell us about your personal and professional background.
I grew up in Norman, Oklahoma, near the University of Oklahoma campus, where my father was the Director of the University of Oklahoma Press. At age 15, I went away to the Mary C. Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island, and graduated in 1955. After, I received a bachelor's and master's degree from what is now the University of Central Oklahoma. I taught junior high school English during the court-ordered integration of the Oklahoma City Schools for six years and then taught English in high school for four years. I was also a single mother with three children who needed support, so I decided to change careers and completed another master's degree in guidance and counseling. I spent four years doing counseling work with families and children. At the encouragement of my new husband, I went to the University of Oklahoma for my PhD in Psychology, and together we went into private practice.

We were both volunteers with the Red Cross and underwent extensive training in their programs. At that time, there was not a mental health component with the Red Cross. Along with another psychologist in our office, we put together a proposal for Red Cross Mental Health training. We covered floods, tornadoes, house fires, and other disasters in Oklahoma. Among those was the massacre at the Edmond, Oklahoma, Post Office. And in 1995, I was put in charge of the death notification teams after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I had taken most of my disaster training with the Critical Incident Stress Foundation and learned coping skills for working disasters, which was a critical part of getting through these tragedies.

We all began to hear about the Oklahoma Standard after the bombing. This referred to the outpouring of support from people all over the state as well as the country. We had volunteers who brought food, blankets, steel-toed boots, and other necessities for the families and survivors. It was a life-changing experience for all of us. One of the ways that I dealt with the stress of this trauma later was to volunteer at The Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum, which opened about six years after the bombing. It was helpful to see all the visitors from so many states and countries wanting to pay their respect to the families and volunteers.

What obstacles did you face pursuing your career?
Many of us who were born in the 1930s and 1940s faced the obstacles of that era: We were supposed to stay home and raise our children. When that was not possible, we entered a workplace that often had different expectations for women.

I learned early on that I would have to be assertive without offending. Whether it involved getting a credit card in my name or getting car insurance, the demands were different for women than men.

I was told that I would be hired as an assistant principal as long as they had a male in the same position. When I asked for the reasoning, I was told they needed a strong male who could handle the boys. I explained that I had between 30-40 students in my English classes every hour, and since half of them were boys, I felt that I was capable of "handling" them.

What is one thing you wish you had known before you pursued this path?
I wish I had had more confidence in my abilities. It took a long time to realize that I could take another step in my career. As single parents know, it is very hard to balance parenting and careers. But it is possible, and a successful mother can be a powerful role model if there is a good balance.

What advice would you give to women pursuing barrier-breaking careers today?
You need a good sense of yourself and a belief that you can do the job.

During challenges or when you hear negativity from yourself or others, take a step back and let what you really want guide you.

Finding a good therapist can help you integrate beliefs you might not even know you have. By understanding and rejecting old messages from the past, you are in a better position to move forward with your dreams and goals. Having a guide helps eliminate past fears and opens up many possibilities.

Taking charge of our lives is not only empowering to us in our careers, but also in all of our relationships. We are better friends and partners when we feel confident in our abilities.