She was born on 14 February 1847 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. When she was four, her family immigrated to the United States and settled in Massachusetts. She had several siblings.
She had a very difficult childhood. Her father was mostly absent and her mother suffered a nervous breakdown, unable to take care of the children all alone. The illness of a brother added to their miseries.
She was a responsible and hard working girl who not only tended to the household chores, but also performed physically laborious works like digging wells and chopping firewood.