Susan Hale was born in Boston, Massachusetts to a prominent literary and intellectual family, the youngest of eight children. Her father, Nathan Hale, a nephew and namesake of the American Revolutionary War hero, was a lawyer and editor-owner of the Boston Daily Advertiser. Her mother Sarah Preston Everett was a linguist, writer, and sister of Edward Everett, a minister, orator, and politician. Her older brother Edward Everett Hale, a minister, and her older sister Lucretia Peabody Hale also became writers. Susan was educated at home by tutors in childhood and learned to draw and paint. At 16, she attended the Emerson School for Girls in Boston. When her father became ill, she went to work as a teacher in Boston to help support the family. Her father died in 1865, and Susan and Lucretia took a trip abroad to visit their brother Charles, who was then consul general of the USA in Egypt. In 1872, she decided to seek training as a painter and watercolorist, and studied in Paris, France, and Weimar, Germany, for nearly a year. When she returned to Boston in 1873, she began giving lessons in watercolor painting. Later she began giving public lectures and readings about art. She was also an amateur actress. Susan often spent winters working in Boston and traveling in the summer, touring extensively throughout Europe, the West Indies, Mexico, and across the American continent. She described her travels in vivid detail in letters to her family, particularly Lucretia. She eventually settled in Matunuck, Rhode Island, the summer home of her brother Edward, with whom she wrote the Family Flight series of travel books for young people. She also wrote Life and Letters of Thomas Gold Appleton (1885) and other nonfiction works.