An influential educational reformer and bestselling author, she published such novels as Understood Betsy (1917) and Seasoned Timber (1939). An advocate of the Montessori Method of education, she published several non-fiction works on the topic.
She wrote numerous columns for publications such as The Outlook and Harper's Bazaar.
She was born in Lawrence, Kansas. Her father, James Hulme Canfield, was president of Ohio State University.
She was named by Eleanor Roosevelt as one of the ten most influential women in the United States.