She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1923, and returned there after working for a newspaper in Florida, to pursue a master's degree in anthropology (1930). Her master's thesis was entitled "Mythological Elements common to the Kowa and Five Other Plains Tribes." She married linguistic anthropologist Charles F. Voegelin, with whom she jointly conducted fieldwork among Native American tribes. In 1938, fieldwork among the Tübatulabal people of northern California led to her first book, Tübatulabal Ethnography published by the University of California Press in 1938.
She holds the distinction of being the first woman to receive a doctoral degree in anthropology from Yale University when she received her degree in 1939 with a dissertation entitled "Shawnee Mortuary Customs," published five years later by the Indiana Historical Society. In the 1940s, she worked in the upper Great Lakes conducting linguistic and ethnographic fieldwork among the Ottawas and Ojibwas living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A specialist in Native American folklore, she founded the American Society for Ethnohistory in 1954 and was its first editor of the journal Ethnohistory until 1964.
In 1982, the Society created its Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin Prize for best book-length work in the field of ethnohistory. She taught in anthropology, history, and folklore at Indiana University, Bloomington, beginning in the fall of 1943. There she also directed the Great Lakes-Ohio Valley Research Project from 1956 to 1969, the date of her retirement. The research reports on tribes of the region are now housed as the Ohio Valley-Great Lakes Ethnohistory Archive in the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology at Indiana University. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1947 to pursue comparative studies of the folklore and mythology of American Indians and Eskimos. In 1948, she became president of the American Folklore Society, and from 1949 to 1951, she served as secretary for the American Anthropological Association. She edited the Journal of American Folklore from 1941 to 1946. She was one of the original inductees into the Fellows of the American Folklore Society in 1960. Upon retirement, she moved to Great Falls, Virginia, to live with her daughter and son-in-law. In the fall of 1985 she gave her Shawnee field notes and remaining professional books and papers to the Newberry Library in Chicago. She died of cardiac arrest on July 10, 1988.
- Tubatulabal Ethnography, 1938. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Shawnee Traditions: C.C. Trowbridge's Account, 1939, (with Vernon Kinietz) . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press
- Map of North American Indian Languages, 1941, (with C.F. Voegelin). American Ethnological Society.
- Culture Element Distributions 20: Northeast California, 1942. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Mortuary Customs of the Shawnee and Other Eastern Tribes, 1944. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society. WorldCat
- Tanner, Helen Hornbeck. 1991. "Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin (1903-1988), Founder of the American Society for Ethnohistory." Ethnohistory 38 (1991): 58-72.