Miss Hollister was born September 27, 1857 in Clarendon, New York. She was the granddaughter of Squire Hollister, an early settler in the area. Her father was Austin J. Hollister (1822-1887), a prosperous farmer in Ridgeway, a small community northwest of Holley, New York. He married his first wife, Clarinda Woster Stone (1830 - 1868), in 1853. She bore him three children; Ella and twin brothers Jay B. and Ray B. Hollister (d. 1959)
Ella attended local schools in the Brockport, New York area and at the age of 26 entered the Rochester City Hospital Training School on October 17, 1883, graduating March 25, 1886. For the next twelve years she did private duty nursing in Rochester, New York. In 1898, Miss Hollister volunteered as a Red Cross nurse in the Spanish American War, serving at The US Army Military Hospital at Montauk, New York. Later she would work as a contract nurse in Cuba helping reorganize the country's civilian hospitals.
After returning from the war, she became the first hourly nurse in Rochester. She was hired as first "Friendly Visitor" or Social Worker, establishing what would become today's Department of Social Work Services in 1909.
Her duties were enumerated in the Hospital Review, of July 1909:
"In answer to the question as to what are the methods employed, we will explain, that Miss Hollister visits almost daily the wards and the Out Patient Department of the Hospital. She comes in touch with the patients there, who are glad to recognize in her a friend to whom they may confide their troubles. With kindness, tact and good judgment she visits the families in their homes. If she finds suffering from lack of nourishment or proper medicine, or care, or need of clothing, she knows what organizations to appeal to for these necessities and calls their attention to the case. She goes further than this, and in several instances has obtained through her energy and influence, employment for the would-be breadwinner of the family. Troubles of all kinds come to the knowledge of our Friendly Visitor, and in countless ways she smooths (sic) away difficulties, by her sympathy, experience and kind advice."
She had made fifty calls in her first month, helped fourteen families and found work for two boys picking berries on a farm. On another occasion she spent an "afternoon at the park with a nervous patient from Canada, who came as a stranger to the Hospital a month before. She has since gone home well."
Miss Hollister also called on friends of discharged patients who had died, "to express the interest and sympathy of the Hospital. . . One of these was a British soldier who had served in the Boer War, there contracted an incurable disease, and had been a patient in the Hospital for many months."
Another occasion someone gave her some "money to use for Christmas and with it she gladdened with a chicken dinner one family, who through sickness had expected to have a very meager one . . . We would be very glad to have gifts for this department, of good clothing that does not need mending, for men, boys, women and girls," reported the January 1910 Hospital Review.
Ella Hollister left her position as Friendly Visitor after 14 months. She returned to nursing for six years when she became a Y.W.C.A. Travelers Aid worker at New York Central Station in 1916, where she worked until a few days before her death on December 14, 1928. Her brother Ray survived her. Internment was in the family plot in Holley (N.Y.) Village.