Margaret Hill McCarter was born near Carthage, Indiana, to Quaker parents. She attended public schools and the Quaker school Earlham College. She studied Latin, English and history at Indiana State Normal School at Terre Haute, graduating in 1884. She taught school, served as a high school principal, and then moved to Kansas to become head the English department at Topeka High School. In 1890, she married William Arthur Carter, a physician, with whom she had three children. She contributed articles to newspapers and magazines, and published her first historical novel, The Cottonwood's Story, in 1903. She became one of the best known and highest paid novelists in the USA in her time, with her greatest appeal being her detailed descriptions of the Kansas landscape and events. A fervent Republican, she was the first woman to speak at the 1920 Republican National Convention in Chicago.