Elizabeth Whitehead, the eldest of eleven children, was born in 1828. After her education at Portman Hall School, she became a schoolteacher.
In 1857 Elizabeth Whitehead married Frank Malleson. Over the next few years they had four children. In 1864 the Mallesons opened the College for Working Women, based on the idea of the Working Men's College, which had been founded ten years earlier by Frederick Dennison Maurice. The college was supported by William Morris, Barbara Bodichon, John Stuart Mill, George Eliot and Harriet Martineau. Some of its early teachers included Elizabeth Garrett, Frances Power Cobbe and Octavia Hill.
A supporter of woman's suffrage, Elizabeth Malleson joined the London Society for Women's Suffrage. Other members included John Stuart Mill, Helen Taylor, Frances Power Cobbe, Lydia Becker, Millicent Fawcett, Barbara Bodichon, Jessie Boucherett, Emily Davies, Francis Mary Buss, Dorothea Beale, Anne Clough, Lilias Ashworth Hallett, Louisa Smith, Alice Westlake, Katherine Hare, Harriet Cook, Catherine Winkworth, Kate Amberley, Elizabeth Garrett, Priscilla Bright McLaren and Margaret Bright Lucas.
Her daughter, Hope Malleson, was a member of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), but Elizabeth objected to its militant methods.
Elizabeth Malleson died in 1916.