Gabriele Reuter is born in 1859 in Alexandria as the daughter of the textile entrepreneur and Prussian consulate secretary in Egypt, Karl Reuter (1822-1872), and his wife Johanna Behmer (1830-1903). She is a great-granddaughter of the poet Philippine Engelhard (1756-1831). She spends part of her childhood in Alexandria, some in Dessau and Haldensleben (Saxony-Anhalt today). After the death of her father in 1872, she moves with her mother to Germany. In 1875 she is invited by her aunt Auguste Oberbeck (1819-1904) to Weimar, where she tries to establish herself as a writer.
Her childhood experiences in the Orient provide her with material at first: Erinnerungsblätter aus Aegypten (Commemorative Documents from Egypt – 1878/80). She writes Glück und Geld. Roman aus dem heutigen Egypten (Luck and Money. A novel from today's Egypt) in 1888 and the novella Kolonistenvolk (A Colonist Nation) in 1889. With the money she earns, she travels to Kochel in 1890. She meets the anarchist and poet John Henry Mackay (1864-1933) and the playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906). Reuter decides to live a bohemian life in Munich.
Here she takes in the writer Emma Merk (1854-1925), who introduces her to her circle of artists and scholars. Reuter comes up with the idea for her later successful novel Aus guter Familie (From a Good Family – 1895): this tells the story of the suffering of Agathe Heidling in Wilhelminian Germany, who fails at the bourgeois woman's path in life to be a "virgin, wife and mother". The book becomes the book that an entire generation and the women's movement identify with.
In 1891 she returns to Weimar with her mother in need of care. Here she reads the works of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and establishes contact with the Friedrichshagen circle of poets.
In 1896 she joins the "Verein für geistige Interessen der Frau" (Association for Women's Intellectual Interests), where she serves on the board until 1898. In Leoni she meets the teacher and writer Benno Rüttenauer (1855-1940). He becomes the father of her daughter, who is born at the unmarried mothers' home in Erbach an der Donau in 1897. Reuter describes the conditions there in the novel Das Tränenhaus (The House of Tears – 1908). She copes with motherhood on her own, in contrast to the anti heroine who is driven mad.
In 1899 she moves to Berlin with her daughter and mother. She writes more works, which are characterised by the description of mental states, among them Frauenseelen (Women's Souls – 1901). Reuter is back in Weimar again in 1929. She works as a reviewer for the New York Times for the next few years. She is supported by her daughter due to her ailing eyesight. The author dies in 1941.