Elisabeth Schnack was born in Germany, the daughter of a Swiss botanist. She trained as a secondary school teacher and in 1924 went to China, where she founded a private school in Manchuria. She married a German merchant, with whom she had two sons. In 1938, she returned to Switzerland and studied English literature at the University of Geneva. From 1950, she worked as a translator of English works into German and helped introduce writers from the UK, Ireland, North America, and the Commonwealth nations to the German-speaking world.