Frances Eliza Hodgson was born on November 24, 1849, in Cheetham, Manchester England, then emigrated to the United States in 1865.
Burnett began writing and publishing stories at the age of 19 as a way to help support her family, who was struggling financially since the death of her father in 1852. She later began writing novels, but became known for her children's works after publishing Little Lord Fauntleroy in 1886.
In 1872 she married Swan Burnett, and the couple had two sons, Lionel and Vivian. After Lionel died in 1890 from tuberculosis Burnett struggled greatly with depression. In 1898 she divorced Swan, and the Washington Post state the divorce resulted from Burnett's "advanced ideas regarding the duties of a wife and the rights of women". She had a brief married to Stephen Townsend, an actor 10 years younger than she. In 1905 Burnett became an American Citizen, and also published A Little Princess. In 1911 one of her most famous works, The Secret Garden, was published. Burnett published dozens of other children's and adult books during her lifetime.