Ada Negri was born in Lodi, near Milan, Italy into an artisan family. Her parents were Giuseppe Negri, who died when she was young, and his wife Vittoria Cornalba, a weaver. During her early childhood, they lived in the porter’s lodge of a palace where her grandmother worked for Giuditta Grisi, the famous soprano. She attended Lodi’s Normal School for Girls and earned a teaching certificate. At age 18, she took a job as an elementary school teacher in the rural town of Motta-Visconti, near Pavia. She began to publish her poems in local newspapers. After the publication of her first collected volume, Fatalità (Fate, 1892), she won the Milli Prize for poetry, which gave her a small stipend and allowed her to devote her time to writing. In 1895, she published Tempeste (Tempests), with its themes of social injustice. In 1896, she married Giovanni Garlanda, an industrialist in Biella, with whom she had two daughters. The marriage was unhappy, and she separated from her husband in 1913 and moved to Switzerland. She published the collection Esilio (Exile) in 1914, and her only novel, a semi-autobiographical work called Stella Mattutina (Morning Star) appeared in 1921.
She returned to Italy and had a tormented love affair described in Il libro di Mara (The Book of Mara, 1919). During a year-long stay on the island of Capri, she wrote I canti dell'isola (Songs of the Island, 1925). In 1931, she received the Mussolini Prize funded by the Milanese newspaper Corriere della Sera. She published 10 volumes of poetry during her career and eight volumes of prose. Her work was popular and widely translated into other languages during her lifetime, with individual poems published in newspapers in the USA and other countries. In 1940, she became the first woman admitted to the Royal Academy of Italy. Near the end of World War II, she fled the fighting to her daughter's home near Milan and then to various other locations but finally returned to Milan. In January 1945, four months short of the end of the war, Negri's daughter found her dead in her studio. Her reputation suffered after the war from being associated with the Fascist movement.