Hedwig Courths-Mahler was born Ernestine Friederike Elisabeth Mahler in Nebra, Germany. Her mother was Henriette Mahler and her alleged father was a German soldier named Ernst Schmidt, who died before she was born. She was raised in poverty by foster parents, and left school early. She worked at a variety of jobs, such as salesgirl and domestic servant, before beginning her career as a writer. In 1889 in Leipzig, she married Fritz Courths, a painter with whom she had two daughters. In 1904, her first novel, Light and Shadow, was serialized in a periodical. She went on to become an extremely prolific and successful author of light romantic fiction and tearjerkers, producing on average four books each year, for a total of 208. She was the most popular writer in Germany between the two world wars. A number of her stories were adapted as films or plays. Her daughters Margarete Elzer and Elfriede Birkner also became successful writers.