Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler was the daughter of Henry Hartley Fowler, 1st Viscount Wolverhampton, who became a Liberal Member of Parliament and cabinet minister, and his wife Ellen Thorneycroft. She and her younger sister Edith Henrietta Fowler, who also became a novelist, were educated at home. Both sisters began to write at an early age. In her late teens, Ellen attended a private school in London, and then lived at home until she was 43 years old. Her first major publication was a volume called Songs and Sonnets, published in 1888. She published her first novel, Cupid's Garden, in 1897, and achieved fame with her second novel, Concerning Isabel Carnaby (1898). They were followed by A Double Thread (1899), Fuel of Fire (1902), Place and Power (1903), Kate of Kate Hall (1904), Her Ladyship's Conscience (1914) and Ten Degrees Backward (1915), among others. Much of her fiction was set in Wolverhampton and other areas of the West Midlands, known as the Black Country. She also continued to write poetry and short stories, contributed to such periodicals as The Girl's Own Paper, Woman at Home, and the Pall Mall Magazine. In 1903, she married Alfred Felkin, a teacher at the Royal Naval School at Mottingham, now Eltham College. She and her husband co-wrote Kate of Kate Hall (1904), a love story.
They later moved to Westbourne in Bournemouth, partly for the sake of Ellen's health.