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She was the daughter of Benjamon Clayton III, a member of a well-established family of Dublin engravers. The family moved to London when she was seven. Her earliest writing and illustrations were published in Chat, a newspaper owned by her father, and later in Punchinello, a comic paper owned by her father and some friends, and Sala's London. As it was all but impossible at that time for a woman to attend art school, she educated herself by copying at the National Gallery and the British Museum.
She wrote biographical anthologies on women in various fields - Notable Women (1859), Women of the Reformation (1861), Queens of Song (1863), Celebrated Women (1875), English Female Artists (1876) and Female Warriors (1879) - and children's fiction. She continued to have her fiction and humorous drawings published in magazines, including Judy and London Society, and designed calendars and Valentine cards in the 1870s. She married James Henry Needham in 1879, but continued to publish under her maiden name.
- Simon Houfe, The Dictionary of 19th Century British Book Illustrators, Antique Collectors' Club, 1996, p. 93
- Reviews, The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol 11 No 252, 1 February 1864, pp. 225-225
- Pamela Gerrish Nunn, "Reviews and Re-Views", Woman's Art Journal Vol 3 No 2, Autumn 1982/Winter 1983, pp. 57-60
- Frances Clarke, "Clayton, Eleanor ('Ellen') Creathorne", Dictionary of Irish Biography, (Eds.) James Mcguire, James Quinn, Cambridge University Press, 2009
- Rosemary Mitchell, [‘Clayton , Ellen Creathorne (1834–1900)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004, accessed 20 Aug 2010