Family Ties Wiki
Family Ties Wiki

Elyse Catherine Keaton (b. Elyse Catherine Donnelly) is a character in Family Ties. She is portrayed by Meredith Baxter-Birney. She is an architect working for both larger firms and independently throughout the series' run. She is the wife of Steven Keaton and the mother to Alex P. Keaton, Mallory Keaton, Jennifer Keaton, and Andrew Keaton. She is the daughter of Charlie and Kate Donnelly, as well as the oldest sister to Ned Donnelly and Michelle.


Elyse is of Irish and French ancestry.[6] Her interest in architecture started when she was nine, when she danced in ballet shoes for Brenda Donnelly, who asked her, "Why don't you become an architect?"[7]

Elyse attended South Sandusky High School, Class of '63.[8] When she was a high school freshman, her school's administration said that girls couldn't take woodworking shop, so Elyse and her friends organized a protest where they took over the shop and sawed chairs apart until the administration gave in.[9] During the same year, she fell for a senior boy named Granville Mitchell who was in her ballet class. Their romance was a disaster, but it caused her to develop a lifelong love of dance.[10] Elyse was the most popular girl in high school. She was the Homecoming Queen, captain of the cheerleaders, captain of the swim team, and captain of the wrestling team. She used to stand up for unpopular kids like Roger Erdman.[11] She went to the junior prom with a boy named Roger Silverman because he asked her and Steven didn't.[12] However, she and Steven did go to the senior prom together, and danced to "Our Day Will Come."[13]

According to most episodes, Steven and Elyse met in high school. However, this is contradicted by several episodes. According to the Pilot, Steven worked for Richard Nixon for a few weeks in 1960 in order to impress a Young Republican named Sandra Fudderman, although based on the birthdate seen on his passport, he would have been too young in 1960 to work for Richard Nixon. According to Just One Look, Steven and Elyse met in freshman year. Elyse couldn't find her class, and Steven had a map of Spain but no map of the campus, so they both skipped school and spent the day wandering around town getting ice cream, browsing through bookstores, and falling in love. This would be highly unusual behavior for high schoolers but would make more sense for college students. Flashbacks in My Back Pages show Steven as a college student asking Elyse out. In The Boys Next Door, Steven goes to Elyse's high school reunion and doesn't know anyone.

Elyse attended college in Berkeley, where she majored in architecture. Her first architecture text was Foundation in Structure by Curtis Nevin.[14] During her first year of college, she and Steven lived in a house that had about fifteen residents at any given time, including Richard Schofield[15] (although this is contradicted by Steven's reference to "our" dorm room in My Back Pages). During the same year, Elyse used to play guitar and sing folk songs every Thursday night at a cafe called the Age of Darkness. She says that Woody Guthrie changed the course of her life.[16] She and Steven also performed the Berkeley Blues Trilogy together in local coffee houses.[17] Elyse worked on Scavenger magazine with Steven. Elyse was initially opposed to the idea of marriage, but Steven proposed to her after he got accepted into the Peace Corps because there was no way to guarantee that they'd be sent to the same place unless they were married.[18] At one point Steven spent a few months in Alaska working on a newspaper because Elyse thought they should spend time apart to make sure they really loved each other to get married. During that time, Elyse had a brief romance with Richard Schofield. When Steven got back to California, he and Elyse were so happy to see each other that they decided to get married right away. [19] Elyse and Steven were married in May 1964[20][21], when they were both nineteen.[22] (According to Mallory in The Homecoming they were engaged at eighteen and married at twenty, although this conflicts with their birthdates.) Their wedding was in Golden Gate Park, where Charlie Donnelly tried to interrupt the ceremony with tear gas.[23] At some point before they had kids, the two of them lived by themselves in an apartment in Berkeley.[24]

Elyse and Steven served in the Peace Corps in Africa during their college years. Alex was born in 1965, ten months into their time there.[25] During Alex's infancy, Elyse starred as Sequoia Free in A Draft Card for the Burning, a play written by Steven about their romance.[26] At the time of Mallory's birth in 1967, the family was living in Berkeley, where Steven was still a student, although it's unclear if Elyse was in school at that time.[27]

Elyse and Steven were involved in political activism and the hippie movement in the 1960s. As of Have Gun, Will Unravel they've been to seven peace rallies, plus one that they thought was for peace but was actually for legalized prostitution. They've been arrested three times, were involved in 15 subversive political demonstrations between 1966 and 1973,[28] and spent the Democratic National Convention of '68 in jail.[29] They also danced naked in the rain at Woodstock. One of their arrests was during a protest in front of the Justice Department. On the same day, they beat the National Guard 6-1 in a frisbee tournament.[30]

Elyse designed her first building, the Cavanaugh Building, in 1970. At that time, the Keatons were living in an apartment in Columbus.[31]

Elyse used to work in an office, but sometime in late 1971 or early 1972 she started working full-time from home.[32] She doesn't feel that being a woman has had a strong effect, positive or negative, on her career.[33]

By the time Jennifer was born in 1972, the family had settled in their house in Columbus.[34] After Jennifer's birth, Elyse was told that she probably wouldn't be able to have any more kids, though this was later proven wrong.[35]


Physical Description[]

Throughout the Series[]

Season 1[]

In Season 1, Elyse is a freelance architect who works from home.

Season 2[]

In Working At It, Elyse is hired by an architectural firm, where she works under Karen Banks. She has trouble adjusting to the pressures and frustrations of office work, the unfamiliar technology, and the job's effects on her work-life balance, and as of Not an Affair to Remember feels a little depressed about it. She also gets a job singing folk songs at a nightclub called the Top Spot.

Season 3[]

In Here We Go Again, Elyse learns that she's pregnant with Andrew Keaton. She doesn't appear in the episodes Love Thy Neighbor, Keaton and Son, Hotline Fever, 4 Rms Ocn Vu, Help Wanted,Karen II, Alex 0, and Auntie Up because she's either out of town or bedridden due to her pregnancy (and because Baxter-Birney was unable to appear on set due to pregnancy). In Birth of a Keaton: Part 1, Elyse is playing the guitar and singing during a WKS pledge drive when she goes into labor a month early on the air. A blizzard prevents her from getting to the hospital, so in Birth of a Keaton: Part 2, Dr. Alexander comes to the station to deliver the baby. Elyse quits the architecture firm after Andrew is born.[36]

Season 4[]

The architecture firm (now headed by Ted Waterman) hires Elyse part-time as a consultant, allowing her to work while still spending plenty of time with her kids.[37]

Season 5[]

Season 6[]

Elyse is now working for Norback, Jenkins, & St. Clair, which may or may not be the same firm as the one from the earlier episodes. Her boss is Carl Norback, and she works in room 803 with Jerry Donello.[38]

Season 7[]




  • Her favorite book is Wuthering Heights. She and Steven used to act out scenes from it when they were in college.[39]