Butcher was born on September 13, 1888 in Fredonia, Kansas. Her family moved to Chicago when she was 3-years-old and she later attended Lewis Institute (now Illinois Institute of Technology) from 1906 to 1908. She graduated from the University of Chicago in 1910. In 1935 Butcher married Richard Bokum, an advertising executive, who died in 1963. They had no children
She began at the Tribune in 1913 and held various positions including society editor, club editor, crime reporter, fashion editor, women's assistant editor, special correspondent, music assistant critic. In 1923 she became the literary editor and held the position for 40 years until her retirement in 1963.
A cartoon by Helen E. Hokinson of The New Yorker on the back cover of Fanny Butcher's autobiography Many Lives, One Love shows a bookstore clerk showing a book to an elderly lady. The clerk is saying, "Hugh Walpole liked it, Fanny Butcher liked it, Wm. Rose Benet liked it, and Mrs. Roosevelt liked it, but it *isn't* very good." (drawing copyright 1940 and 1968 by The New Yorker Magazine). This shows that Fanny Butcher was a household name among bookish Americans in 1940.
In 2016, Butcher was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.
- "Fanny Butcher Dead; Literary Critic Was 99". The New York Times. 1987-05-17. Retrieved 2008-03-09.
- Heise, Kenan (1987-05-17). "Fanny Butcher Knew The Giants Of Literature". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2015-10-19.
- The Popular Educator Library, Volume two, National Educational Alliance, Inc, copyright 1938, 799.
- "Fanny Butcher". Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. 2016. Retrieved 2017-10-08.
- Fanny Butcher, Many Lives, One Love (New York, Harper and Row, 1972)
- Fanny Butcher Papers at the Newberry Library
- Hervey Allen Papers, 1831-1965, SC.1952.01, Special Collections Department, University of Pittsburgh
- Bookwomen building Chicago – the Fanny Butcher story Adele Hast, The Caxtonian Web Edition, May 2002. The Caxton Club of Chicago