Ethel Claire Brill was born on January 19, 1877 into a family already making its mark in the development of the Minnesota city of St. Paul and the wider environs of Ramsey County. Her father, William S. Brill and uncle, Hascal Russell Brill (who became a well-known and much-respected district judge), were “English” Canadians born in Quebec, Canada. Their family immigrated to Minnesota around 1860, where William married Anna Sheldon a few years later. Ethel was the youngest of three children. Her brother William was a journalist, most remembered for his coverage of the Leech Lake Ojibwe Uprising in 1898, but whose historical mementos and manuscripts left to Minnesota historical societies confirm a colorful career up through the Russo-Japanese War and World War I. Ethel herself graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Literature degree in 1899, a noteworthy achievement for a woman of her generation. At the time of her graduation, she was listed as a book reviewer for a local newspaper, a task she did for various publications over the course of her writing career—with a specialization in reviewing books pertinent to the geography and history of Minnesota and Great Lakes regions.
Ethel C. Brill is best known to modern readers for her exciting tale of New France, Madeleine Takes Command—the portrayal of an historical happening quite likely inspired by her own family’s roots in this area of Canada. Her other meticulously researched books, whether historical adventures or more factual accounts, all show forth a similar deep interest in the history of the Northwest—Minnesota, the Great Lakes regions of Wisconsin, Michigan, and over into the Dakotas and parts of central Canada. Miss Brill died in November, 1962 at the age of 85 in her home state of Minnesota.