She received her B.A. in psychology from Mount Holyoke in 1948 and her M.A. in 1954. The Ellen P. Reese Grants for Faculty/Student Research has been established in her name. In 1997 Mount Holyoke held a conference dedicated entirely to her memory.
Reese was honored in 1986 by the American Psychological Association (APA) with the Distinguished Contribution to Education in Psychology Award. In 1992, the APA included her in a list of the 100 most important women in psychology.