Mary Ethel Muir Donaldson was born in England in 1876. As a young woman she sought out quiet and remote places to study natural history and became particularly attracted to the western highlands and islands of Scotland. As well as an author she was a passionate photographer who not only studied composition but also chemistry and optics, allowing her to process her own glass negatives, prints and enlargements. In addition to her dark-room she had a workshop in which she modified and improved her equipment.
She travelled extensively throughout the northern and western highlands taking photographs. She specialised in topographical scenes and portraits. Her biographer, the archaeologist and costume historian John Telfer Dunbar, collected around 1000 of her prints and, on his death, donated them to Inverness Museum. Her collection covers the period 1900 – 1930.
A biography, Herself: The Life and Photographs of M.E.M. Donaldson by John Telfer Dunbar, was published in 1979.