She was born at Tressow, in the duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, daughter of Carl Friedrich Graf (Count) von Hahn (1782-1857), well known for his enthusiasm for stage productions, upon which he squandered a large portion of his fortune, and granddaughter of Friedrich Graf von Hahn, the philosopher and astronomer.
She married, in 1826, her wealthy cousin Friedrich Wilhelm Adolph Graf von Hahn, which gave her the doubled name. With him she had an extremely unhappy life, and in 1829, even before the birth of her mentally retarded daughter Antonie Gräfin von Hahn (1829-1856), her husband's irregularities led to a divorce. The existence of a second child, a son, by her partner and travelling companion Adolf Baron Bystram, supposedly born in 1830 and, like her daughter, put in someone's professional care, cannot be ascertained, neither in the more than 1000 letters by her or to her nor anywhere else. The countess travelled, produced some volumes of poetry with true lyrical feeling, and in 1838 appeared as a novelist with Aus der Gesellschaft, a title which, proving equally applicable to her subsequent novels, was retained as that of a series, the book originally so entitled being renamed Ilda Schönholm.
For several years the countess continued to produce novels bearing a certain subjective resemblance to those of George Sand, but less hostile to social institutions, and dealing almost exclusively with aristocratic society. The author's patrician leanings at length drew upon her the merciless ridicule of Fanny Lewald in a parody of her style entitled Diogena. Roman von Iduna Gräfin H..-H.. (1847), and this, as well as the death of Adolf Bystram in 1849, and the revolution of 1848 seem to have co-operated in inducing her to embrace the Roman Catholic religion in 1850. She justified her step in a polemical work entitled Von Babylon nach Jerusalem (1851), which elicited a vigorous reply from Heinrich Abeken, and from several others as well.
From November 1852 until February 1853 she retired into the Convent du Bon-Pasteur at Angers/France, which she, however, soon left, taking up her residence at Mainz where she founded the convent Vom Guten Hirten, in which she lived from 1854 until her death, without joining the order, and continued her literary labours.
For many years her novels were the most popular works of fiction in aristocratic circles; many of her later publications, however, passed unnoticed as mere religious manifestoes. Her earlier works do not deserve the neglect into which they have fallen. If their sentimentalism is sometimes wearisome, her writings are grounded on genuine feeling and expressed with passionate eloquence. Ulrich and Gräfin Faustine, both published in 1841, mark the culmination of her power; but Sigismund Forster (1843), Cecil (1844), Sibylle (1846) and Maria Regina (1860) also obtained considerable popularity. She died at Mainz on the 12th of January 1880.
The posthumous papers of Ida Hahn-Hahn include ca. 730 autograph units, consisting of ca. 520 letters written by her and more than 180 letters written to her, as well as book and poetry manuscripts. Since 2006/2007 they are part of the Fritz Reuter Literaturarchiv Hans-Joachim Griephan Berlin which also keeps a file of letters from and to Ida Hahn-Hahn. The holdings include correspondence of singular importance for her life and her works, among them the correspondence, from 1844/1845, with Hermann Fürst (Prince) Pückler-Muskau.
Her collected works, Gesammelte Werke, with an introduction by Otto von Schaching, were published in two series, 45 volumes in all (Regensburg, 1903-1904). See Heinrich Keiter, Ida Gräfin Hahn-Hahn, ein Lebens- und Literaturbild (Würzburg, 1879/80); Paul Haffner, Gräfin Ida Hahn-Hahn, eine psychologische Studie (Frankfurt, 1880); Alinda Jacoby, Ida Gräfin Hahn-Hahn, Novellistisches Lebensbild (Mainz, 1894); Gert Oberembt, Ida Gräfin Hahn-Hahn, Weltschmerz und Ultramontanismus (Bonn, 1980).