Ellen Steel was born in Holdenville, Oklahoma on 22 December 1923, grew up in the Oklahoma City area, and graduated from Moore High School in 1941. She held several civilian defense jobs during World War II, working as a turret lathe machine operator in a defense plant, in an antiaircraft projectiles plant, and as a machinist at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Washington.
In March 1949, at the age of twenty five, Steel joined the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in Arkansas. She went to Fort Lee, Virginia, for basic training and quartermaster school and stayed on as supply clerk and, later, supply sergeant in a basic training company. Steel was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, in 1952 and then she was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for six months. In the mid-1950s, she worked at the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Paris, France.
Steel left the WAC in 1955, but re-enlisted within a month and was assigned to William Beaumont Hospital in El Paso, Texas. She spent two years working on a bachelor’s degree in personnel management at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and then in the early 1960s went to the WAC Training Center at Fort McClellan, Arkansas. Steel also served with a male reserve unit in Edison, New Jersey, and in the Office of Economic Opportunity in the Job Corps at Fort Meyer, Virginia. Her last assignment was with General Elizabeth Hoisington in the WAC director's office at the Pentagon.
Steel retired in August 1969 and moved to Morningside, Maryland. In June 1979, she moved to Lynn, North Carolina. Ellen Steel died on 3 September 2007.