Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, later Ward, was born Mary Gray Phelps in Andover, Massachusetts. Her parents were Austin Phelps, a Congregational minister and educator, and his wife Elizabeth Wooster Stuart Phelps, author of the Kitty Brown series of books for girls under the pen name H. Trusta. After her mother died when she was eight years old, she asked to be renamed in her honor. Elizabeth received an excellent education, attending the Abbot Academy and Mrs. Edwards' School for Young Ladies. She began writing as a child and published a story in the magazine Youth's Companion at age 13. A couple of years later, she won recognition from prominent literary figures such as John Greenleaf Whittier when her story "The Tenth of January" appeared in The Atlantic Monthly. In 1868, she published The Gates Ajar, a bestselling fantasy novel about the afterlife that won her national fame and popularity. It was followed by Beyond the Gates (1883) and The Gates Between (1887). During her lifetime, she published 57 volumes of fiction, poetry and essays, all of which challenged the conventional view that a woman's place was in the home and often portrayed women in careers. She also wrote several poems and three short stories on Arthurian themes. In 1888, she married Herbert D. Ward, a journalist 17 years her junior, in another break with the norms of the time. She became an advocate through her writing, lectures and other work for social reform, temperance, and the women's emancipation. She was also involved in clothing reform for women, and in 1874 urged them to burn their corsets.