Sarah Barnwell Elliott, novelist, short story writer, and advocate of women's rights, was born in Savannah, Georgia, the daughter of Stephen Elliott, a bishop of the Episcopal Church who was a leader in the founding of the University of the South at Sewanee. Her education consisted of private tutoring and some study at Johns Hopkins University in 1886. Though she lived for a time in New York (1895-1902), Elliott's principal home was Sewanee, where she died and was buried. She never married.
Of her six novels, Jerry (1891), the tragic story of a Tennessee mountain boy who grows up in the West, is probably best-remembered today. The first, The Felmeres, appeared in 1879. Sewanee and the surrounding area served as the setting for The Durket Sperret (1897), one of her best local-color novels. Her one collection of short pieces, An Incident and Other Happenings (1899), is notable for its treatment of southern racial and social problems.
In addition to her fiction, Elliott wrote essays, articles, book reviews, a few poems, a biography of Sam Houston (1900), a play (His Majesty's Servant, produced in London in 1904), and a series of sixteen letters describing her European travels which was printed with the signature “S. B. E.” in the Louisville Courier-Journal in 1887.
A leader in the fight to give women the right to vote, Elliott served as president of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association and in that capacity authored a petition addressed to the lawmakers of the state which appeared in the Nashville Banner, August 17, 1912.