Elizabeth Fries Ellet, née Lummis, was born in New York. Her father William Nixon Lummis was a prominent physician, and her mother Sarah Maxwell was the daughter of an army captain in the American Revolutionary War. She grew up on her family estate in Sodus Point, western New York, and attended the Aurora Female Seminary, where she studied French, German, and Italian, among other subjects. She began publishing translations of European literature as well as her own poetry in periodicals as a teenager. Her first book, A volume entitled Poems, Translated and Original, appeared in 1835. It included a play called Teresa Contarini that was performed in New York and other cities. That year, she married William Henry Ellet, a New York chemist. The couple moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where he taught at South Carolina College. Elizabeth continued to write books and published articles and stories on a wide variety of subjects in American Monthly, the North American Review, the Southern Literary Messenger, and other periodicals. In 1845, she went alone to New York City, where she joined literary circles that included Margaret Fuller, Rufus Wilmot Griswold, Anna Cora Mowatt, Frances Sargent Osgood, and Edgar Allan Poe. During this time, she is believed to have spread rumors of an affair between Poe and Osgood, as well as a rumor that Poe was insane. These actions damaged Osgood's reputation and were deeply hurtful to Poe's wife Virginia, who claimed on her deathbed in 1847 that Elizabeth Ellet had murdered her. Elizabeth's gossip-mongering came to an end when Osgood's husband threatened her with a libel suit and her own husband joined her in New York. She then began writing the first historical accounts of women's participation in the American Revolution and in the settling of the western frontiers. The Women of the American Revolution (1848) was published in three volumes, followed by Domestic History of the American Revolution (1850), and Pioneer Women of the West (1852). In 1857, she became literary editor of the New York Evening Express.