Born Annie Julia Fellows, Annie grew up with her mother, brother Erwin and two sisters, Lura & Albion, on a farm in McCutchanville, Indiana, near Evansville. Her father, Albion, a Methodist minister, died when she was only two, but left his influences through his theological books. Annie began writing already as a girl, producing poems and stories imitating those she read in Godsey's Lady's Book, Youth's Companion and St. Nicholas. She was also known to have read every book in her Sunday school library. She attended district school, and even taught a year when she was 17. Her mother was a firm believer in education for women.
Annie attended the University of Iowa for one year (1881-82), then returned to Evansville to teach for three years, and later to work as a private secretary. She traveled for several months through New England and Europe, staying with cousins along the way. The influence of these trips would be seen later in many of her her works. When she returned, she married William L. Johnston (a cousin and a widower with three young children.) He encouraged her to write, and she began contributing stories to periodicals. William died in 1892, leaving Annie a widow with his children to support (she never had any of her own). It was at that time that Annie began her career as a writer. Annie Fellows Johnston received tremendous fame and popularity around the turn of the 20th century as an author of books for children. She is best known for her thirteen book series beginning with The Little Colonel, although she wrote over forty books in all as well as contributed occasional stories to periodicals such as the Youth's Companion.
The illustration in the The Sunday Herald Post, Louisville, Kentucky, December 23, 1928, shows Annie Fellows Johnston around 1928 with the then grown-up Hattie Cochran, the real-life Little Colonel. Most of the characters in Mrs. Johnstons' semi-biographical works were based on actual people, places and experiences. For the Little Colonel Series, Johnston fictionalized Pewee Valley, Kentucky, just outside Louisville, as Lloydsborough Valley.