Dorothea Frances Canfield Fisher was born on February 17, 1879 in Lawrence, Kansas, United States; the daughter of James Hulme Canfield, a professor at the University of Kansas, and Flavia A. Camp, a schoolteacher. Her mother took her to Paris in 1890, and thereby awakened her interest in French culture. The family feared that James Canfield's outspoken endorsement of free trade and women's rights would cost him his job.
Hence Fisher cherished the security of bucolic Arlington, Vermont, where she spent many childhood summers with older relatives. She described the tensions of academic life in The Bent Twig (1915), and her Vermont vacations were fictionalized in the juvenile work Understood Betsy (1917), probably her best-selling story.