She was nicknamed "Long Liz". Several explanations have been given for this pseudonym; some believe it came from her married surname "Stride" because a stride is a long step, while others believe it was either because of her height, or the shape of her face. At the time of her death she was living in a common lodging-house at 32 Flower and Dean Street, Spitalfields, within what was then a notorious criminal rookery.
Elizabeth Stride was born Elisabeth Gustafsdotter in the parish of Torslanda, west of Gothenburg, Sweden, on 27 November 1843. She was the daughter of a Swedish farmer, Gustaf Ericsson, and his wife, Beata Carlsdotter. In 1860, she took work as a domestic in the Gothenburg parish of Carl Johan, moving again in the next few years to other Gothenburg districts. Unlike most other victims of the Whitechapel murders, who fell into prostitution due to poverty after a failed marriage, Stride took it up earlier. By March 1865 she was registered by the Gothenburg police as a prostitute, was treated twice for a sexually transmitted disease, and gave birth to a stillborn girl on 21 April 1865.
The following year she moved to London, possibly in domestic service with a family. On 7 March 1869 she married John Thomas Stride, a ship's carpenter from Sheerness who was 13 years her senior, and the couple for a time kept a coffee room in Poplar, east London. In March 1877, Liz Stride was admitted to the Poplar Workhouse, suggesting that the couple had separated. They had apparently reunited by 1881, but separated permanently by the end of that year.
She told acquaintances that her husband and two of her nine children had drowned in the sinking of the Princess Alice in the River Thames in 1878. In the accident, according to her story, she had supposedly been kicked in the mouth by another of the victims as they both swam to safety, which had caused her to stutter ever since. In fact, John Stride died of tuberculosis in Poplar and Stepney Sick Asylum on 24 October 1884, more than five years after the Princess Alice disaster, and they had no children.
After separating from her husband, Stride lived in a common lodging-house in Whitechapel, with charitable assistance once or twice from the Church of Sweden in London, and from 1885 until her death lived much of the time with a local dock labourer, Michael Kidney, in Devonshire Street. She earned some income from sewing and housecleaning work. An acquaintance described her as having a calm temperament, though she appeared at Thames Magistrates Court numerous times for being drunk and disorderly, giving her name as Anne Fitzgerald. She learned to speak Yiddish in addition to English and Swedish. Her relationship with Kidney continued in an on-and-off fashion. In April 1887, she laid an assault charge against him but failed to pursue it in court. She left Kidney again a few days before her death. Dr Thomas Barnardo, a leading social reformer, claimed to have met Stride at the lodging house at 32 Flower and Dean Street on Wednesday 26 September.