Bess Armstrong was born Elizabeth Key Armstrong on December 11, 1953 in Baltimore, Maryland. She attended Bryn Mawr School for Girls, and later graduated from Brown University with a degree in Latin and Theater. Armstrong started acting in school productions, which her father, an English teacher at Brywn Mawr, directed. By the time she had graduated from Brown University, Armstrong had performed in over 100 school and community stage plays. Her professional acting career began in 1975, when she starred in the Off-Broadway production of Harmony House. She went on from there to star as Julia Peters in the 1977 TV sitcom On Our Own and had several other TV appearances. In the 1980s, Armstrong debuted in film and starred in several popular movies including High Road to China, Jaws 3-D and The Four Seasons. However, Armstrong is most recognized for her role as Patty Chase on the successful ABC teen drama My So-Called Life.