Caroline Spurgeon was born in the Punjab, India, and studied English at King's College and University College, London, between 1895 and 1899. Her teaching career began in 1901 at Bedford College, London which she combined with further study, of Icelandic, at UCL from 1905.
A specialist in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, Spurgeon was appointed Hildred Carlisle Professor of English at the University of London in 1913. In the same year, she became head of the English department at Bedford College. In doing so she became the first woman at the University of London to hold either position, and the second women in Britain to be appointed as a professor.
Spurgeon's multi-volume Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism and Allusion was published between 1920 and 1925. In 1935 Spurgeon published her best-known work, Shakespeare's Imagery and what it Tells Us - a pioneering study of domestic and garden imagery and metaphors of illness in the plays. An active champion of women in higher education, Spurgeon left money to Bedford to support a fellowship at the college.