Edith Emerson was born in Oxford, Ohio, to an into a family of artists and scholars, with whom she traveled widely. She received an introduction into artistic training at the early age of twelve, as a student under Norwegian painter Olaf Branner, then the Fine Arts Department head of Cornell University. At 15, Emerson went to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. Later on, she took in classes at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, There she became acquainted with muralist Violet Oakley while a student in her mural-painting class. To Emerson, Oakley was the "most stimulating... electrifying teacher, opening up undreamed of possibilities and encouraging every effort. It was exciting, especially to women students as it abolished any sense of inferiority.” From the Pennsylvania Academy she was awarded two Cresson Scholarships that enabled her to travel across Europe. Throughout her journeys, Edith kept close correspondence with Oakey, and in 1916 became her studio assistant, moving into Oakley’s Mount Airy home, Cogslea, in 1918. They developed a partnership that continued until Oakley's death in 1961.
Emerson continued to exhibit work the Academy from 1918 through 1945, and taught at other institutions including Chestnut Hill College and the Agnes Irwin School. In 1947, Emerson was elected as formal curator of the Woodmere Art Museum, and served too as the director there until 1978. Her dedicated work for the institution is commendable; she was a multiple recipient of rewards for successful exhibitions she curated, and her thorough research and meticulous notes on the works in the permanent collection have proved valuable even in this current age of operation.
Although Emerson was herself an accomplished mural artist and and bookplate designer, she devoted her efforts to Oakley, and in the wake of her death established the Violet Oakley foundation to preserve the muralists legacy.