(Mary) Edith Durham was born in 1863 in London and educated at Bedford College and at the Royal Academy of Arts. She worked as an artist and illustrator, and illustrated the reptile volume of the Cambridge Natural History, and one her London scenes is in the Guildhall Gallery.
In the 1890s, she became ill and was prescribed travel.
She sailed to Montenegro and became captivated by Balkan life and culture. Thereafter, she travelled extensively in the region and studied the region's history and languages systematically, leading to several books on the subject including Through the lands of the Serb (1904), The Burden of the Balkans (1905), and High Albania (1909).
In particular, she championed the cause of the Albanians, becoming a secretary of the Anglo-Albanian Society, launched in 1918.
Edith Durham's studies of Balkan ethnography led to gifts of artefacts to the British Museum, the Pitt Rivers Museum and others. Her photographs and sketches of the region were given to the Royal Anthropological Institute where she was a council member and the first woman’s vice-president.
As well as collecting she also published books on the subject including Some Tribal Origins, Laws and Customs of the Balkans (1928).
Durham donated a "tally stick" to the Horniman. In a manuscript note, it is described as the following: "made in 1911 during the revolt in North Albania. The insurgents fetched bread from [outgoings?] a head man chipped the stick for every loaf taken. This acted as check and prevented loaves being stolen before reaching the migrant camps".
Other objects associated with her were purchased at the Balkan States Exhibition in 1907.
The Montenegro section was largely organised by her, and she brought material from the village of Duji Do, near Njegus, where she used to to stay with the family of her guide, Krsto Pejovic. The exhibition contained a reconstruction of a Montengerin home, the implements of which were purchased by the Horniman.
Edith Durham was described thusly: "As a woman she evoked a protective courtesy, mingled with astonishment, in her hosts. Unable to imagine anyone travelling for pleasure, or out of curiosity, they assumed that the king of England must have sent her to discover and redress their grievances".