Born in rural Hirzel, not far from Zurich, she grew up in a happy, cultured and artistic home. In 1852, when Johanna was 25, she married a former schoolmate, Bernhard Spyri, an attorney in Zurich.
Although Spyri is almost exclusively associated with Heidi, she wrote 31 books, 27 volumes of stories and four brochures. However, her first story, about a woman’s experience with domestic abuse, wasn’t published until 1880, when the author was already in her early fifties. Following this, more of Spyri's stories for both adults and children were published, with many highlighting the struggles and harsh living conditions of Switzerland's poorer population at the time. Among this output was Heidi, which the author wrote in four weeks.
Tragedy struck in 1884 when both Spyri's husband and son died. She busied herself raising a niece, doing charity work, and continuing to write and publish.
Johanna Spyri died on 7 July 1901 Zürich and is interred in the family plot at the Sihlfeld-A Cemetery in Zürich, Switzerland. In 2001 there was a CHF commemorative coin minted in Spyri's honour.
Likely, she never guessed just how popular the story of Heidi would become but today it ranks alongside the Bible and Shakespeare as one of the world's best-selling and most widely-read books.