Zoe Akins was born in Missouri and was home-schooled during her early years. She then attended the Monticello Seminary in Godfrey, Illinois, and Hosmer Hall in St. Louis. She lived in St. Louis for many years and wrote poetry and criticism for the magazine Reedy's Mirror as well as other, better-known publications of that era. Akins wrote about 40 plays, beginning in 1914 with Papa, a comedy. Subsequent works included The Magical City, which was performed by the Washington Square Players in the 1915-16 season and her first big hit, Declassée, which ran on Broadway in the 1919-20 season and was twice adapted into films. However, her play Daddy's Gone A-Hunting was the first of her works to actually make it onto the screen, in 1925. In the 1930s, Akins became more active as a screenwriter and licensed adaptations of her works. After her play The Greeks Had a Word for It ran for 253 performances on Broadway in 1930-31, it was made into two unsuccessful films, although much later was adapted as How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), a box office hit that helped launch the career of its star, Marilyn Monroe. Zoe Akins' most famous play, The Old Maid -- an adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel -- won her the 1935 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Apart from the films made from her plays and novels, Akins wrote, adapted or contributed the story to 15 motion pictures. Her most famous film as a contributing writer was the classic Camille (1936) with Greta Garbo, which she wrote with James Hilton and Frances Marion.
She also wrote two volumes of poetry, Interpretations and The Hills Grow Smaller. In 1932, she married Captain Hugo Rumbold.