Susan Fairhurst was born on 24 May 1885 in Bolton, Lancashire. Her father, William Fairhurst, was a journalist, sub-editor of the Bolton Evening News. Her mother, a milliner before marriage, had eleven pregnancies, of whom Susan was the seventh of the eight to survive their first birthday. Her father was a forceful, highly energetic character who was active in the Methodist church. The home was intellectually active, full of books and lively conversation. Susan’s early life was marked by tragedy and loss. When she was seven months old, the brother next eldest to her in age died of measles. Then, after the birth of her youngest child four years after Susan, her mother died of a chronic illness when Susan was six years old.
Shortly afterwards, her father married the nurse who had looked after his wife during her terminal illness. Susan disliked her stepmother and became rebellious both at home and school. In her early teens she lost her religious faith. As a consequence, her father withdrew her from school at the age of fourteen. Her brothers all left home after altercations with their father, so Susan’s later teen years were spent in the company of her sisters.