Ellen Maury Slayden was born at her wealthy family's plantation, Piedmont, in Charlottesville, Virginia. She was educated at home by tutors. In 1883, she married James Luther Slayden, a Texas cotton merchant and rancher. She served for a while as society editor of the San Antonio Express. When her husband was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1896, they moved to Washington, D.C., where they lived for the next 21 years. She continued her writing, contributing to various magazines and newspapers, and kept a daily diary. After her death, her notebooks, filled with sharp observations of the social and political life in Washington, passed into the hands of her nephew F. Maury Maverick. His widow, Terrell Webb, and her second husband had the journals published in 1962 as Washington Wife: Journal of Ellen Maury Slayden from 1897-1919.