Jean (originally Jeanette) Starr was born to a family of German Jewish immigrants in Ohio. She delighted in the music, books, and the German language spoken by her grandparents. She went to New York City, where she attended Kohut College Preparatory School and took courses at Columbia University. In 1907, she married aspiring writer Louis Untermeyer. Although her first choice of career as a pianist did not work out, she began publishing her poetry in 1918 and wrote essays and book reviews. She taught at Olivet College and the New School for Social Research. Her circle included Sara Teasdale, Amy Lowell, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, W. H. Auden, Archibald MacLeish, and others.