Katharine Elizabeth Dopp was born on a farm in a remote area of Wisconsin, the daughter of early settlers to the area. She grew among a large group of siblings and cousins and attended a one-room schoolhouse. At the age of 17, she became a teacher in another one-room school in what is now Belmont, Wisconsin. She earned several advanced degrees, including doctorates of Philosophy and Education, and continued learning all her life. She was a professor at universities in Wisconsin, Utah and Illinois, and became influential in education circles. As Dean of the Chicago Normal School, a teacher's college that became part of the University of Illinois, she was instrumental in designing and implementing correspondence courses for public school teachers. She was among the first educators to encourage the inclusion of physical and practical activity into the elementary school curriculum. She wrote a series of textbooks on anthropology and economics that were widely used in the 20th century, and other children's books.