An American fiction writer and essayist, she is particularly known for her 1923 best-selling novel, Black Oxen. She also published a popular book series on the social history of California.
She published her first short story, The Randolphs of Redwood: A Romance, in 1882.
She was raised in California and Kentucky by her maternal grandfather. She married George H.B. Atherton in 1876.
She studied writing under Ambrose Bierce.