Born in Wimbledon, she was educated at Wimbledon High School and Newnham College, Cambridge, where in 1895 she received first class honours in the Natural Science tripos. She worked with Ethel Wood and Charles Lapworth.
Her work on the genera of graptolites from North Wales and the Skiddaw Slates of the Lake District, England and from the Wenlock Shales of the Welsh borders eventually led to Elles' receiving the Lyell Fund of the Geological Society of London in 1900, but was unable to collect it since women were barred from meetings. In 1919 she became one of the first female Fellows of the Geological Society, and in the same year won its Murchison Medal.
She was president of the British Association in 1923.
She never married and had no children.
- Burek, C. V.; Higgs, B. (1 January 2007). "The role of women in the history and development of geology: an introduction". Geological Society, London, Special Publications 281 (1): 1–8. doi:10.1144/SP281.1.
- Burek, C. V. (1 January 2007). "The role of women in geological higher education Bedford College, London (Catherine Raisin) and Newnham College, Cambridge, UK". Geological Society, London, Special Publications 281 (1): 9–38. doi:10.1144/SP281.2.
- Burek, C. V. (21 August 2009). "The first female Fellows and the status of women in the Geological Society of London". Geological Society, London, Special Publications 317 (1): 373–407. doi:10.1144/SP317.21.
- Secord, James A.; Howells, Malcolm; Couples, Gary D.; Oldroyd, David. "Geological Tensions in an Idyllic Field". Metascience 13 (1): 1–27. doi:10.1023/B:MESC.0000023262.37758.d2.
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