Ellen McGowan was born into an American military family. Her father was a naval officer who served in the Mexican War. Ellen was sent to boarding school at age 15 and made trips to Washington, D.C., New Orleans and Havana, Cuba. In 1864, she married James Biddle, an army officer, and immediately accompanied him to meet his cavalry regiment in Indiana. Colonel Biddle served in the South during Reconstruction following the Civil War, and then on the western frontier between 1869 and 1886. She followed him, with her children and servants, to some 20 posts during this time. Her book Reminiscences of a Soldier's Wife (1907) is a valuable and engaging first-hand account of the daily lives of 19th-century military wives and their families. It reveals the excitement, uncertainty, and sacrifice of life on the frontier. Mrs. Biddle writes of the deaths of some of her 10 children and others, long trips by stagecoach, natural disasters like tornadoes and floods, and attacks by Native Americans. She published a second book about her early life, Recollections (1920).