Born in Deal, Kent, she was the daughter of a clergyman whose parish was in the town – her redbrick family home can still be seen at the junction of South Street and Middle Street, close to the seafront. Encouraged by her father to study, she mastered several modern and ancient languages (including Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic) and science. She rendered into English De Crousaz's Examen de l'essai de Monsieur Pope sur l'homme (Examination of Mr Pope's "An Essay on Man", two volumes, 1739); Algarotti's Newtonianismo per le donne (Newtonianism for women); and wrote a small volume of poems. Carter's position in the pantheon of 18th-century women writers was, however, secured by her translation in 1758 of All the Works of Epictetus, Which are Now Extant, the first English translation of all known works by the Greek stoic philosopher. This work made her name and fortune, securing her a spectacular £1000 in subscription money.
She was a friend of Samuel Johnson, editing some editions of his periodical The Rambler. He wrote that "[my] old friend, Mrs Carter could make a pudding [just] as well as translate Epictetus... and work a handkerchief [just] as well as compose a poem.") She was friends with many other eminent men, as well as being a close confidant of Elizabeth Montagu, Hannah More, Hester Chapone, and several other members of the Bluestocking circle. Anne Hunter, a minor poet and socialite, and Mary Delany are also noted as close friends.
Carter kept an interest in religious matters. She was influenced by Hester Chapone, and she wrote apologetic treatises of the Christian faith asserting the authority of the Bible over human matters. One of these works is known as Objections against the New Testament with Mrs. Carter's Answers to them and was published in the compilation of writings Memoirs of the Life of Mrs. Elizabeth Carter by Montagu Pennington, which also included her "Notes on the Bible and the Answers to Objections concerning the Christian Religion. Her poems In Diem Natalem and Thoughts at Midnight (also known as A Night Piece) likewise reflect her deep belief in God.
- Susan Staves, A Literary History of Women's Writing in Britain, 1660-1780 (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2006) pp. 309–315.
- Lezard, Nicholas (26 February 2005). "Review of Dr Johnson's Women, by Norma Clarke". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
- Sic - she remained single until her death.
- "Gallery rediscovers oil portrait". BBC News. 6 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
- Bettany, George Thomas (1891). "Anne Hunter". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 28. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Cranford, Chapter V--Old Letters
- Portraits of Elizabeth Carter at the National Portrait Gallery
- "Elizabeth Carter", Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring, 1986), pp. 138–140
- "Home town finds feminist painting". BBC News. 7 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Carter, Elizabeth". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource [full citation needed]
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Gilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Moore, F., eds. (1905). "Carter, Elizabeth". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.