Elizabeth L. Banks was born in Trenton, New Jersey, the daughter of John Banks and his wife Sarah Ann (née Brister). She was raised as a young child by her maternal aunt Elizabeth Brister and uncle Joseph Peck on an experimental farm north of Madison, Wisconsin. She attended Milwaukee Downer Female Seminary College, then became a typewriter girl in a grocery store. She went on to work on the "society pages" at newspapers in Baltimore and St. Paul, Minnesota. After a stint as a secretary at the American consulate in Peru, she went to London to seek her fortune. There she created a sensation in what was then known as stunt journalism: going undercover, following the lead of the pioneering Nellie Bly, she posed as a housemaid, street sweeper, Covent Garden flower girl, and later as an heiress to record her experiences and write about them for publications such as The Daily News, Punch, St James' Gazette, London Illustrated, and Referee. She wrote under several pseudonyms, including Mary Mortimer Maxwell and Enid and had a long and complex writing career not limited to covering stunts. She promoted women's right to vote and denounced prison conditions for jailed suffragists. Her circle of friends and neighbors included George Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, H.G. Wells and Henrietta Marston. After many years in London, she made a trip back to the USA and published an autobiographical work, The Remaking of an American. Her other books included Campaigns of Curiosity: The Journalistic Adventures of an American Girl in Late Victorian London, and Newspaper Girl.