Ella Rhoads began writing as a child. Her first published work was the poem, “Dreams of the Past,” which appeared in The Oregon City newspaper in 1875 when she was age 14. At this time, she also began sending out her short fiction for publication, much of it anonymously or under various pseudonyms (such as “Ann Lester,” “Ethelind Ray,” and “Enid”). After her marriage, she began publishing under her own name. On March 8, 1890, an article by Higginson appeared in Portland, Oregon’s West Shore, a literary magazine. The article's controversial topic was divorce. In the article, Higginson argued that early marriage was more of a problem for women than divorce. Her recommendation that women would be wise not to marry young garnered Higginson national notice. That same year what would become her most well-known poem, “Four-Leaf Clover,” was published. In 1893, Higginson’s story “The Mother of ‘Pills’” won McClure’s magazine award for best story. The following year Higginson won McClure’s magazine short fiction contest, with a prize of $500, for “The Takin’ In of Ol’ Mis’ Lane.” McClure’s printed 80,000 copies of the issue in anticipation of high demand. In 1897, the Macmillan company became Higginson's main publisher. They published most of her subsequent books and heavily promoted her writing. In 1902, when Higginson’s only novel, Mariella, of Out West, was published, reviewers compared it to novels by Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, and Émile Zola. In 1908, Alaska, the Great Country, an account of Higginson's travels in Alaska as well as a history of Alaska, was published and subsequently went through several editions. In 1914, Higginson’s story “The Message of Ann Laura Sweet” was named Collier’s magazine prize story and awarded a prize of $2500 by a panel consisting of former US President Theodore Roosevelt and investigative journalists Mark Sullivan and Ida Tarbell. Approximately fifty of Higginson’s poems were set to music by well-known composers Leila Brownell, Charles Willeby, Horatio Parker, Whitney Coombs, and others and performed internationally by celebrated dramatic singers such as Enrico Caruso, Emma Calvé, John McCormack, and Ada Crossley. With these publications and awards, Higginson became known as the most popular writer of the Pacific Northwest.
Higginson started her lifelong editorial work at age 15 when she began work at the newspaper office of The Oregon City Enterprise, learning typesetting and editorial writing. In later years, she served as editor of the “Fact and Fancy for Women” department for Portland, Oregon’s West Shore, a literary magazine; as associate editor of The Pacific magazine in Seattle; and as associate editor for the Seattle magazine, The Westerner.