Effie Leland was born in North Carolina, and graduated from Converse College in South Carolina, where she majored in English.
In the 1930s, she married Allison F.P. Wilder, with whom she had four children. She was active in community groups, worked as a secretary, and was a frequent contributor to the Charleston News & Courier. Her first publication to reach a national audience was her short story, "Mama Needs New Shoes," published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1958. She went on to author or co-author several nonfiction books, including Pawley's Island: A Living Legend; Henry Woodward: Forgotten Man of American History; and Tales and Taradiddles: A Scrapbook of Southern Hilarity, all self-published. At age 85, after she had moved into the Summerville Presbyterian Home, she published a first novel that brought her fame: Out to Pasture. She went on to publish four more books, Older But Wilder, One More Time, Over What Hill? and Oh, My Goodness!, the last one shortly before her death at age 97.