Ilse Lehiste, born in Tallinn, Estonia, studied piano playing at the Conservatory there. In 1944, she fled the the Soviet invasion of her homeland. She earned the first of her two doctoral degrees, in philology from the University of Hamburg, in 1948 while living in refugee camps. After emigrating to the USA the following year, she taught German at Kansas Weslyan and the Detroit Institute of Technology. She earned a second Ph.D., in linguistics, from the University of Michigan in 1959. At Michigan, she was a research associate in the Department of Speech Communication Laboratory for several years. In 1963, she joined the faculty of Ohio State University, where she divided her time between phonetics, historical linguistics, and administration. She was the first chair of the Linguistics Department when it was founded in 1965. During her long and influential career, she was the author, co-author or editor of 20 books and about 300 research papers and reviews. She was awarded the title of Distinguished University Professor and received the University Distinguished Scholar Award, the highest recognition for scholarly achievement. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1990, and a Foreign Member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences in 2008. She was named professor emerita in 1987.