Ethel May Dell was born on 2 August 1881 in Streatham, a suburb of London, England, UK. Her father was a clerk in the City of London and she had an older sister and brother. Her family was middle class and lived a comfortable life. She worked on a novel for several years, but it was rejected by eight publishers. Finally the publisher T. Fisher Unwin bought the book for their First Novel Library, a series which introduced a writer's first book. This book, titled The Way of an Eagle, was published in 1911 and by 1915 it had gone through thirty printings.
On 1922, she married a soldier, Lieutenant-Colonel Gerald Tahourdin Savage, when she was forty years old, and the marriage was happy. Her husband resigned his commission on his marriage and Ethel Dell became the support of the family. Her husband devoted himself to her and fiercely guarded her privacy. For her part she went on writing, eventually producing about thirty novels and several volumes of short stories. Ethel's married name is recorded as Ethel Mary Savage. Ethel M. Dell died of cancer on 19 September 1939, at 58.