She was born April 10, 1835, the daughter of Lucius L. Chandler, in Pomfret, Connecticut. In 1855, she married a Boston publisher, William U. Moulton (d. 1898), under whose auspices her earliest literary work had appeared in The True Flag. Her first volume of collected verse and prose, This, That and the Other (1854), was followed by a story, Juno Clifford (1855), and by My Third Book (1859); her literary output was then interrupted until 1873 when she resumed activity with Bed-time Stories, the first of a series of volumes, including Firelight Stories (1883) and Stories told at Twilight (1890).
Meanwhile she had taken an important place in American literary society, writing regular critiques for the New York Tribune from 1870 to 1876 and a weekly literary letter for the Sunday issue of the Boston Herald from 1886 to 1892. In 1876 she published a volume of notable Poems (renamed Swallow flights in the English edition of 1877) and visited Europe, where she began close and lasting friendships with leading men and women of letters.
Thenceforward she spent the summers in London and the rest of the year in Boston, where her salon was one of the principal resorts of literary talent. In 1889 another volume of verse, In the Garden of Dreams, confirmed her reputation as a poet. She also wrote several volumes of prose fiction, including Miss Eyre from Boston and Other Stories, and some descriptions of travel, including Lazy Tours in Spain (1896). She was well known for the extent of her literary influence, the result of a sympathetic personality combined with fine critical taste. She died in Boston on August 10, 1908.