Nell Shipman was born in 1892 in Vancouver, British Columbia, though her family later moved to the Seattle area, and from there to Glendale, California.  Nell’s acting career began in her teens, and she also was active as a screenwriter from an early age.  She was the screenwriter for all of her existing films, and was credited with writing a number of others.  Her final film credit came for her 1935 screenplay Wings in the Dark, starring Myrna Loy and Cary Grant.  In addition, Nell directed and edited her films. 

Between 1915 and 1919, Nell starred in a number of films.  Following the success of
Back to God’s Country in 1919, Nell decided to form her own production company; a few years later she moved her company (including a large and diverse zoo of her animal actors) to Priest Lake, Idaho.  Her film The Grub Stake (1922) was filmed both around Priest Lake and in the Spokane area.  In addition to The Grub Stake, she also filmed the "Little Dramas from Big Places" series around Priest Lake.  Three film survive intact from this series: The Light on Lookout Mountain, The Trail of the North Wind, and White Water (all date from 1924).

Shipman's company also was noteworthy for including cinematographer Joseph Walker.   Walker went on to work as  cinematographer for a number of classic films, including such well-known Frank Capra works as
It's a Wonderful Life, It Happened One Night, and Mr Smith Goes to Washington.

While Nell Shipman's films have won critical attention in recent years, she was unsuccessful at bucking the burgeoning Hollywood studio system in her own time.

Known as the “Queen of the Dogsleds,” Nell typically portrayed strong women characters.  Her movies invariably feature animals (both wild and domestic), and she was an early champion of humane treatment for animals in film.