Harriette Merrifield was born and lived her entire life in Worcester, Massachusetts. She married William Forbes, a judge, and had several children, including the future historical novelist Esther Forbes. Mrs. Forbes published several works of history such as Gravestones of Early New England and the Men Who Made Them (1927), one of the first books to treat early American gravemarkers as art objects. She edited The Diary of Rev. Ebenezer Parkman (1899), and New England Diaries, 1602–1800: A Descriptive Catalogue of Diaries, Orderly Books and Sea Journals (1923). She helped her daughter with the research for some of the latter's novels set in colonial times through the early American republic. From 1887 to 1945, Mrs. Forbes photographed 17th- and 18th-century structures throughout central and eastern Massachusetts. Her images, preserved as negatives by the American Antiquarian Society, have since been digitized and cataloged.