Elizabeth O’Toole was born in County Clare in 1924. Her father, Laurence Ryan, was a thoroughbred horse breeder; her mother, May Watson, was from Charleville, in County Cork. Elizabeth was educated at Laurel Hill secondary school in Limerick, and at Cathal Brugha Street College in Dublin, graduating with degrees in Nutritional Science and Home Economics. Before her marriage, in 1948, she taught in County Cork, and, after moving back to Dublin, was a lecturer at the Church of Ireland College of Education, at Dundrum and Ballsbridge Technical Colleges, and at her alma mater, Cathal Brugha Street. She has lived in the United States for much of her adult life.