A native of New York City, Ulmann had a diverse education: teacher's training with Lewis Hine at the Ethical Culture School, studies in psychology and law at Columbia University, and photography classes at the Clarence H. White School of Photography. Independently wealthy, she became a professional portrait photographer in New York. Her subjects included friends such as Ruth St. Denis, Albert Einstein, and President Calvin Coolidge.
Ulmann is best known, however, for her photographic projects in the Appalachian Mountains of the South. Taking the same large view camera and soft-focus lens that she had used for her New York portraits, she traveled thousands of miles through this region during the summers of the 1920s and early 1930s until her death in 1934. Assisted by her friend the folklorist and singer John Jacob Niles, Ulmann sought to document what she believed was America's vanishing cultural past.
Merry A. Foresta American Photographs: The First Century (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996)