Women’s History Month 2023- Ellen Pence  

This month, in honor of Women's History Month, we are honoring Rising Stars and Mothers of the Movement. Today, we are highlighting Mother of the Movement, Ellen Pence, as shared by our Director of Policy and Practice, National Center on Legal Approaches to Prevent Family Violence, Kristine Lizdas Esq. 

Most of what we learn comes not from school, but out in the world, and the individuals who serve as our field guides make all the difference. I had the great honor of embarking on my career under the guidance of Dr. Ellen Pence (1948-2012), and that has made all the difference in my life.  

Ellen’s mentorship taught me the crucial role of community organizing in achieving social justice. During my job interview with D.A.I.P. (Domestic Abuse Intervention Project), I told Ellen I was really interested in “big picture” policy work, to which she replied, “Great! I have a job for you that is all about the minutiae.” In the first couple weeks of my job, I let Ellen know I had a lot of exciting ideas to share. She responded, “Great! But for the next couple of years, I want you to mostly listen.” 

Instead of helping me hone my ability to persuade – a skill I valued as a young attorney - Ellen pushed me to meet people where they were at. For example, while processing recent meetings with a law enforcement officer or an assistant city attorney, she would ask me, “What did you learn about that person and what drives what they do?” We talked about the importance of developing relationships and identifying shared goals: on-the-ground skills that my law school had overlooked. 

Ellen was born on April 15th, Tax Day, to an accountant mother – a fact Ellen would sometimes state to explain away occasional foibles. Ellen spent her entire adult life promoting systems change work on behalf of battered women. She helped found the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in 1980 and is credited with creating the “Duluth Model” - also known as the Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to domestic violence (an interagency, cooperative approach involving criminal, civil, and social service agencies).  

Ellen earned a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Toronto in 1996 under the guidance of Dr. Dorothy Smith, an eminent sociologist. During this time Ellen adapted the process of institutional ethnography to the context of community organizing, calling it a “Community Assessment.” She founded Praxis International in 1998 with the goal of teaching and sharing this community-organizing tool with communities around the world.  

Ellen Pence

Ellen possessed and preached a unique combination of humility, confidence, and humor that inspired trust and openness in the individuals with whom she partnered and those whom she trained. Within that space of trust, openness, and humor, many difficult but transformational conversations occurred – conversations that led to enhanced social justice for survivors of battering. To be in that space with Ellen, to witness firsthand the combination of qualities that otherwise elude description or didactic instruction, was a great gift and honor. 

-Kristine Lizdas, Esq.

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