Ann Sophia Winterbotham was born on March 30, 1810, in Humphreysville (now Seymour), Connecticut, the third child of ten born to Ann (Wrigley) and John Winterbotham, part owner and manager of a woolen mill owned by Connecticut poet-patriot Colonel David Humphreys. After her mother's death when she was young, she was raised by her mother's sister, Rachel, who became her stepmother. She was educated at the local dame school and in South Britain, Connecticut. Her first published compositions, poetry and prose, appeared under pen names in various newspapers.
In 1831 Ann Winterbotham married printer Edward Stephens of Plymouth, Massachusetts. They moved to Portland, Maine, where they founded the Portland Magazine ( 1834- 1836), a women's magazine that included both reprinted material from other writers and their own work. Edward Stephens functioned as publisher, while Ann Stephens was editor. In 1837 the couple moved to New York, where Stephens wrote for the local popular magazines.
Stephens was to continue her editorial career--while she simultaneously wrote poetry, essays, and fiction--as associate editor of the Ladies' Companion and Literary Expositor ( 1837- 1841); associate editor of Graham's Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine ( 1841- 1842); coeditor of the Lady's World (renamed Peterson's Magazine in 1849) ( 1842- 1853); editor of Frank Leslie's Lady's Gazette of Fashion and Fancy Needlework ( 1854- 1856); and founder and editor of Mrs. Stephens New Monthly ( 1856- 1858).
Much of Stephens's own work appeared in the periodicals that she edited; her poems "My Natal Bowers" and "The Polish Boy" (which would be reprinted in anthologies throughout the century) ran in the Portland Magazine,