Howell was born in Birmingham, grew up in Handsworth, and received a convent education. At age 15, she began studies at the Royal Academy of Music, where her teachers included John Blackwood McEwen and Tobias Matthay.
Howell achieved fame with her symphonic poem Lamia, which Sir Henry Wood premiered at The Proms on 10 September 1919. Wood directed Lamia again that same week, on 13 September 1919. He subsequently conducted Lamia again in the 1921, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1930 and 1940 Proms seasons, but in subsequent years Lamia was neglected, until its revival in the 2010 season of The Proms. Howell dedicated Lamia on its 1921 publication to Wood. Among other compositions by Howell, Wood conducted Koong Shee in 1921, her Piano Concerto in 1923 and 1927 with the composer herself as pianist on both occasions, and The Rock in 1928. He was scheduled to conduct the first performance of Three Divertissements in 1940, but the concert was cancelled owing to The Blitz. Her Air, Variations & Finale for oboe, violin & npiano (1949) can be got from June Emerson Wind Music (E620). Three Divertissements, Howell's last known orchestral work, did not receive its premiere until the 1950 Malvern Festival.
Howell won the Cobbett Prize in 1921 for her Phantasy for violin and piano. She received the nickname of the "English Strauss" in her lifetime. Wood attempted to recruit Howell to his conducting class at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) in 1923, but she instead became a teacher at the RAM in 1924. During World War II, she served with the Women's Land Army. She retired from the RAM in 1970, and after her retirement, continued to teach students privately. She died in Malvern, aged 83.
The Cameo Classics label recorded Lamia in 2008 with Marius Stravinsky conducting the first modern recording of Howell's orchestral music with the Karelia Symphony Orchestra. In 2010 Cameo Classics recorded Howell's Piano Concerto with Valentina Seferinova as soloist at Cadogan Hall. The conductor was Toby Purser with his Orion Symphony Orchestra of London, with the Cd (CC9041CD) released in September 2012. The CDs are now available from Nimbus Wyastone.
- Matt Lloyd (2010-08-27). "The lost archive of our own Strauss, Dorothy Howell". Birmingham Post. Retrieved 2010-09-27.
- Mike, Celia, "Howell, Dorothy", in The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers (Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel, eds.). The MacMillan Press (London & Basingstoke), p. 231 (1994, ISBN 0-333-51598-6).
- Roger Wright (2010-09-10). "Last Night of the Proms: A night that is so uniquely British stirs hearts throughout the world". Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-09-27.
- George Hall (2010-09-06). "Ulster Orchestra/Watkins; BBCCO/Daniel (Royal Albert Hall, London)". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-09-27.
- Morley, Christopher (2013-05-30). "Review: Dorothy Howell's Lamia, the Ulster Orchestra, at the Royal Albert Hall". Birmingham Post. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
- Burton, Anthony, Programme Notes for Prom 68, 116th Season of The Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, 5 September 2010.
- Jill Hopkins (2004-11-05). "Dorothy Howell, Chamber Music: CD Review". Worcester News. Retrieved 2010-10-18.
- Hardy, Lisa, The British Piano Sonata, 1870-1945. The Boydell Press (Woodbridge, UK), p. 52 (2001; ISBN 0-85115-822-6).
- 'B.V.' (1 April 1926). "New Music: Strings". The Musical Times. 67 (998): 334. JSTOR 912732.
- 'F.B.' (April 1926). "New Music for Strings". Music & Letters. 7 (2): 184–186. JSTOR 725875.
- 'T.A.' (1 July 1929). "New Music: Pianoforte". The Musical Times. 70 (1037): 613. JSTOR 917424.
- 'Sc.G.' (April 1933). "Gramophone Records". Music & Letters. 14 (2): 197. JSTOR 728943.
- Presto Classical page with selected list of Dorothy Howell works
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography page on Dorothy Howell
- Encyclopedia.com page on Dorothy Howell
- Musicweb International page, "An Eighty-Eighth Garland of British Light Music Composers
- Birmingham Central Library, "The life & works of Dorothy Gertrude Howell"
- BBC Proms – Performances of works by Dorothy Howell
- The life and works of Dorothy Howell - MA Thesis by V J Byrne (2015)