Catherine Drinker was born the youngest of six children into a wealthy Quaker family. She traveled abroad extensively with her family as a child and became a violin virtuoso as a teenager. She studied for a performance career at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore and the Juilliard School in New York, but ultimately decided to become a writer. In 1919, she married Ezra Bowen, a professor of economics, and had two children. Although Catherine Drinker Bowen had no formal writing education and was not an academic, she went on to become a bestselling and respected biographer. Her earliest subjects were musicians, and then she moved on to statesmen, lawyers, and judges. She was noted for her meticulous research, done on her own without assistants. She won the National Book Award in 1958 for her book on the prominent 17th-century lawyer Sir Edward Coke. In addition to her biographies and histories, she also wrote three books on the biographer's craft, a family memoir, and articles for a variety of magazines.