Catherine Greenaway, known as Kate, was born in Hoxton, Greater London, the daughter of a draftsman-engraver father and a seamstress-milliner mother. She attended what would become the Royal Academy of Art in 1858, and won local and national awards for her illustrations in the 1860s. She always loved dolls and fabric, and continued to work with them as an adult. In 1868, at the age of 22, she exhibited her watercolor paintings at a gallery in London. She worked as a freelance artist, designing cards, calendars, and books. Kate Greenaway published her first collection of verses, Under the Window: Pictures and Rhymes for Children, in 1879. It was a bestseller and launched her career as an immensely popular and influential author and illustrator of children's books. Other works quickly followed, including Kate Greenaway's Birthday Book (1880), Kate Greenaway's Mother Goose (1881), A Painting Book (1884), and Marigold Garden (1885). She produced the illustrations for Robert Browning’s work The Pied Piper of Hamelin in 1889. Greenaway's name became a household word in the UK and USA, and she was so popular with the public that Liberty of London adapted her designs for children's clothing and sold them in stores. She was elected to membership of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 1889. She lived in an Arts and Crafts style house she commissioned from Richard Norman Shaw in Frognal, London, although she spent summers in rural Rolleston, near Southwell in Nottinghamshire.
She died of breast cancer in 1901 at the age of 55. The annual award created in 1955 by the Library Association of Great Britain for the best illustrator of children's books was named the Kate Greenaway Medal in her honor. Her books continue to sell today, along with bookplates, greeting cards, calendars, and other materials based on her illustrations, and for many her work is synonymous with Victorian childhood.