Dorothy Dehner was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1901. In 1916, her parents died and she moved to Pasadena, California. From 1922 to 1923, she majord in drama at UCLA, then moved to New York City to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Art. In 1925, she traveled to Europe, where she saw Cubist and Fauve paintings, which inspired her to enroll in the Art Students League. She studied drawing under Kimon Nicloaides and painting under Kenneth Hayes Miller. She took additional art courses at Skidmore College in 1951.
Dehner married fellow-artist, David Smith in 1927 and unfortunately he viewed her as artistic competition. Although she drew and painted throughout the marriage, it was not until the year of their divorce (1952) that she had her first solo exhibition at the Rose Fried Gallery in New York City. During the same year, she met Louise Nevelson while making prints at Atelier 17. During this time, Dehner’s career began to take off.
She was a visiting artist at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in 1970-1971 and she received an award from the Women’s Caucus for Art in 1983. She has had retrospective exhibitions of her work at the Jewish Museum in New York (1965), City University of New York (1991), the Katonah Museum of Art (1993) and the Cleveland Museum of Art (1995).