Born on March 5, 1824, in Beverly, Massachusetts, Lucy Larcom was the seventh child of the eight born to her father, Benjamin Larcom, and his second wife, Lois Barrett Larcom. Larcom's father, a retired sea captain, was a merchant of East Indian goods in Beverly. In 1832 Benjamin Larcom died, leaving the large family in Lois Larcom's care. While the older children found work in such trades as tailoring, Lois Larcom brought the younger children to Lowell where she found work managing a mill boardinghouse for female factory operatives.
In 1835, soon after her mother and sisters arrived in Lowell, Lucy Larcom began work as a doffer. For the next two years, Larcom would work nine months in the mills and attend school for the remaining three months. At age fifteen, with her formal schooling ended and still employed in the mills, Larcom joined her older sister Emeline at the "factory girls" Improvement Circle meetings. There, Larcom's poetry and stories drew the attention of Harriet Farley, the editor of a new literary magazine, The Lowell Offering. This periodical was run by female factory workers and funded by the Lowell mill owners. Larcom became a regular contributor to the magazine, eventually attracting the attention of John Greenleaf Whittier, who became her lifelong friend and mentor.
Lucy Larcom went west to the Illinois prairie in 1846. For six years she worked as a schoolteacher. During this time, she saved enough money to pay for her tuition at Monticello Academy in Godfrey, Illinois, a place where she would cultivate her love for learning, writing, and spiritual development. These were productive years for Larcom. She continued contributing to Farley periodical, now entitled The New England Offering, as well as to local New England newspapers and to Whittier abolitionist weekly, the National Era.