Dorr Bothwell was a painter, printmaker, and art teacher who translated her travels into artistic expression. Born Doris Hodgson Bothwell in San Francisco, she moved to San Diego with her family and took art lessons with their neighbor, the painter and sculptor Anna Marie Valentien (1862–1947). In the early 1920s, Bothwell studied at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) with Rudolph Schaeffer (1886-1988). After her first exhibition entry was rejected in 1924, female colleagues suggested that Bothwell not sign her first name on artworks to avoid gender discrimination from male reviewers. Instead, Bothwell legally changed her first name to Dorr, a nickname from childhood that she preferred.
In 1925, Dorr Bothwell became a charter member of the San Francisco Society of Women Artists. Three years later, Bothwell sailed for Pago Pago, Samoa. She lived on the island of Ta`ū as the adopted daughter of a local chief and sketched, painted, and made linocut prints, which she sent to California to fund further travel. During the late 1930s, Bothwell worked as a muralist for modernist painter Lorser Feitelson and the Works Progress Administration in Los Angeles. In the 1940s, Bothwell was one of the first West Coast artists to exhibit serigraph prints. She taught at the California School of Fine Arts from 1944 until 1961, when Bothwell changed her trajectory and moved to Mendocino, California, where she established a studio and taught at the Mendocino Art Center until 1997.