Elizabeth Robins grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After her mother's death when she was 8 years old, Elizabeth was sent to a Catholic convent boarding school. She embarked on a writing career with the encouragement of her uncle, humorist and folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland, beginning with articles published in periodicals such as The Atlantic Monthly. In 1884, she married Joseph Pennell, a Quaker artist, against the wishes of both families. The couple then left for Europe, where they worked as freelancers for more than 30 years. Elizabeth created a literary and artistic salon at their home in London, with friends such as Aubrey Beardsley, James McNeil Whistler, Henry James, Max Beerbohm, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw. She wrote books about her travels with her husband, which he illustrated, including An Italian Pilgrimage (1887), Our Sentimental Journey Made Through France and Italy (1888), Our Journey to the Hebrides (1889), and Over the Alps on a Bicycle (1898). European café culture provided much of the education for her future as a food columnist and cookbook author. She began collecting cookbooks as reference material and eventually owned more than 1,000 rare volumes, many of which were later donated to the Library of Congress. The first of her more than 25 books was a biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, published in 1884. She went on to write biographies of other artists and writers, including those of Whistler, her uncle Leland, and her husband. A collection of her best food columns for Pall Mall was reprinted in 1923 and 2000 under the title The Delights of Delicate Eating.