Born in Cottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Harrison is a classical scholar. He mother died shortly after her birth. At the age of seventeen she was sent to finishing school at Cheltenham College for Ladies, under Dorothea Beale. In 1870 she obtained honors in the London University examination for women and won a scholarship to Cambridge University.
She studied classics at Newnham College, Cambridge from 1874 to 1879. In 1879 she was place at the top of the Classical Tripos second class, which was the highest position held by either of the two new women's colleges. She was from that point called 'the cleverest woman in England'. In 1879 she moved to London to study aecheology at the British Museum. She became a teacher and lecturer who re-interpreted Greek myth in terms of art of archeology.
In 1879, when Jane Harrison was finishing her studies at Cambridge another young woman, Eugénie Sellers (1860-1943) was starting her studies in classics. The two women shared a flat in 1885 and they travelled together. Eugénie booked venues and organised the publicity for Jane Harrison's lectures. Eugénie referred to her Grande Passion (GP) or Grand Amour (GA) for Jane Harrison.
Eugénie did the same for Roman studies what Jane Harrison had done for Greek studies and dominated the British School at Rome in the mid-1920s. However, the two women fell out for some unknown reason in 1893. Eugénie married and became widely known as Mrs Arthur Strong.
Jane Harrison was Vice-President of the Hellenic Society from 1889 to 1896. In 1896 she was made a corresponding member of the Berlin Classical Archaeological Institute.
In 1898 she returned to Newnam College and became the college's first research fellow and also took the post of resident lecturer in classicalarcheology.
In her later years Jane Harrison shared her life with Hope Mirrlees (1887-1978), who became her archivist. Hope Mirrlees did classics at Newnham from 1910 to 1913 and was a pupil of Jane Harrison. They became friends and lived and worked together until Jane Harrison's death in 1928. In the letters that Jane Harrison wrote to Hope Mirrlees their relationship was expressed as if from a teddy bear called Ursa Major. In 1915 they went to Paris to study Russian. On their return to Britain Jane Harrison began to lecture in Russian at Newnham College. She also studies other languagesincluding Spanish, Swedish, Persian, and Hebrew.
In 1922 Jane Harrison retired from lecturing and she and Hope Mirrlees moved to a house in Bloomsbury, London.