Vashti Magdalen Detwiler was born in Urbana, Ohio, on February 23, 1842, the daughter of Christian Detwiler (1803-1854) and his wife, Isabella Criley (1809-1901). She taught school in Ohio from 1858 to 1863, and moved to North Adams, Massachusetts, in April 1864, where she lived with her sister and continued to teach. She became engaged to Spencer Willard Garwood (1835-1927) in 1863, and they married on September 20, 1866, despite temporarily breaking off their engagement in 1864. The couple lived in Boston, Massachusetts, before moving to Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1867. They had four children: Grace Olive (1867-1946), Ralph Stillman (1870-1930), Colver Detwiler (1873-1932), and Julia Burlingame (1877-1881). Vashti and her children returned to Boston after she separated from her husband in 1880, and there she attended the Boston University School of Medicine. She received her M.D. in 1883, and formally divorced Garwood in 1884. She then moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where she began a medical practice, and she continued to practice after moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she died on May 7, 1918.