Hershel Elarth was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1907. Elarth was educated at the University of Illinois, receiving a bachelor’s of science degree in 1929 and graduating with a Master's degree in 1930. Prior to graduation he had apprenticed with the well-established Omaha architect Thomas R. Kimball. As a young graduate, in 1929 to 1931, Elarth worked as a designer with fellow Omaha architects John & Alan McDonald, a father-son pair whose joint career spanned seventy years; with them he contributed to the design of the Art Deco Joslyn Art Museum. Elarth also studied in Paris with Madelaine Aublet and at the École des Beaux-Arts. During the early 1930s he designed sculptured bas-relief plaques for the Grandview Park Bandshell in Sioux City, South Dakota.
In the later 1930s Elarth worked as a draftsman for noted Austrian-American and modernist pioneer Richard J. Neutra, in California. Following this work, Elarth was hired as a professor at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. In 1941 he won an American Institute of Architects Langley Scholarship, which allowed for travel in order to study and survey on the subject of defence planning; this research took him to Europe and North Africa. Elarth’s scholarship research was followed by service as a lieutenant in the United States Army during the Second World War. Post-war he returned to Oklahoma.
In 1948 Elarth was hired by the University of Manitoba, placing him among a number of new faculty members who joined the school in the early post-war years, including Victor Kostka, Wolfgang Gerson and James Donahue. While in Winnipeg he contributed to a number of projects, including a now demolished book store and bus terminal at the University and the Northern Sales Building (135 Lombard Avenue, 1952-53) and executed the design of his own home at 511 South Drive (1948-50). He also orchestrated an essay on Manitoba architecture, “Red River Skyline” published in 1953 in the Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. During their time in the city, Elarth’s wife, Wilhelmina van Ingen Elarth, taught art history at the University of Manitoba. Van Ingen Elarth was a Vassar and Radcliffe College-trained art historian who had also studied at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece, and at Johns Hopkins University. In 1954 Herschel Elarth was hired by the Virginia Polytechnic Institute Art Department in Blacksburg, Virginia, where he taught for many years.