Ester Frances Bentley was born on October 24, 1915, in Louisville, Kentucky. She attended Spalding College where she played basketball and served as President of her senior class. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in education at Spalding College in 1941. She went on to be the first female chemist in paint research for the Jones-Dabney company. During the war years, Bentley served as a director of the USO in programs aiding war workers and their families.
In 1947, she received a fellowship to pursue a Master of Science in social work at the National Catholic School of Social Service at the Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C. She graduated from the Catholic University of America in 1949. Upon completion of her Master's degree, Bentley became Director of the Kentucky Society for Crippled Children. From there, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as the field representative for the United Catholic Community Defense Services. Her primary focus was on the western region of the United States. Bentley eventually moved to the west coast where she became Director of Community Planning and Development in San Bernadino, California, and later, Executive Director of the Girl Scout Council in Santa Ana, California. In 1965, Bentley became Editor of the Directory of Health, Welfare, and Recreational Services; and a case worker for the California State Department of Social Welfare at the Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California. Between 1966 and 1974, Bentley taught at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Her final professional role was as a specialist in the Regional Center of Orange County, serving the developmentally-disabled.
As a lesbian activist, Bentley was a founding member of the Coalition of Older Lesbians (CoOL), and she served as a member of the Senior Program Advisory Committee for the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center. She was also a member of the Uptown Gay & Lesbian Alliance, as well as a long-time advocate for gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church.
Ester Bentley died on January 20, 2004, at the age of 88 in Los Angeles, California.
Ester F. Bentley Photographs and Papers, Coll2013-017, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, USC Libraries, University of Southern California.