Born and raised in Long Beach, California, Marie Riggins graduated from Stanford University and then moved to New York to complete her master's degree at Columbia University in 1924.
Riggins' earliest photographs date from 1920. At Columbia, she studied with Clarence White and in the summer of 1922 spent several weeks at his school in Connecticut. In 1930-31 she studied painting in California with Hans Hoffman. There she did a series of still life photographs, incorporating vegetables and other objects, which she then used as models for paintings.
She settled in Cleveland, where she worked for many years as the head of the art department for the Hathaway School for Girls. In her fifties, Riggins enrolled at Case Western Reserve, completing her Ph.D. on the history of pictorial photography.