Helene Raff is born in Wiesbaden in 1865 to the composer Joachim Raff (1822-1882) and the actress Doris Genast (1826-1902). The family moves to Frankfurt am Main when her father is appointed founding director of the new Dr. Hoch's Konservatorium for music in 1877. Helene Raff joins the school as the youngest pupil, receiving lessons in drawing, poetry and metrics. Her mother encourages her talent as a painter, her father her talent as a poet.
When he dies, Raff moves with her mother to Munich, where she trains as a painter. She makes her début in 1890 with a painting at Munich's Glaspalast. In 1891 she works at the studio of Gustave Courtois (1852-1923) in Paris. She is repeatedly represented in exhibitions at Munich's Glaspalast with works including portraits of the poets Paul Heyse (1830-1914) and Gabriele Reuter (1859-1941).
She has a special relationship with the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906). In 1890 she gives him a portrait of a girl. Doubting in her own painting abilities, Raff turns more and more to poetry. The Germanist Karl Weinhold (1823-1901) inspires her to write small folkloristic messages. Paul Heyse becomes her most important patron. She writes verse stories, novellas and historical novels (Der Findling vom Arlberg – The Foundling from Arlberg). Her first collection Modellgeschichten (Model Stories – 1913) appears in 1902. In 1910 she publishes a biography about Heyse.
She is involved in the bourgeois women's movement from the 1890s. In 1899 she joins the Verein für Fraueninteressen founded in Munich (1894), in 1913 the female writers' association founded by Emma Haushofer-Merk (1854-1925) and Carry Brachvogel (1864-1942).
After the First World War, Helene Raff mainly publishes local and popular legends: Tiroler Legenden (Tyrolean Legends – 1924), Altbayerische Legenden (Old Bavarian Legends – 1925) and Fränkische Legenden (Franconian Legends – 1927). She also devotes herself to preserving Munich's local traditions. She presents an important document for music history with her father's biography in 1925.
Raff's works focus on the transformation of the role of women in the present from the beginning. She runs the Münchner Neueste Nachrichten's women's supplement from 1923 to 1933. From 1933, the members of Knorr & Hirth's editorial staff and publishing management were arrested by the National Socialists, including Helene Raff. She was still able to publish her autobiography in 1938. She dies unmarried and childless in Munich in 1942.