Early life and family
Elizabeth Gertrude Knight was born on January 9, 1858 in New York City, one of five daughters, to James and Sophie Anne (née Compton) Knight. Her family operated a furniture factory and sugar plantation in the vicinity of Matanzas, Cuba, and she spent much of her childhood there. In later childhood, she attended a private school in New York; she then attended Normal College (later, Hunter College) and was graduated from there in 1875, at the early age of seventeen. On August 27, 1885 she married Nathaniel Lord Britton, an Assistant in Geology at Columbia College who shared her growing interest in botany. The couple had no children.