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Marietta Holley (1836–1926)

Portrait of Marietta Holley by photographer C.M. Bell. Albumen print c. 1880-1883. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute.

Marietta Holley (1836–1926) was a popular American humorist, often compared to Mark Twain, who used satire to comment on the social and political reform movements of her era. Holley was a private woman who lived in or near her home in Jefferson County, New York, for her entire life. She published her first book at age 36, when she was commissioned by Mark Twain's publisher to write a humorous novel, My Opinions and Betsy Bobbet's (1872). This novel launched her successful series of "Samantha" books, a series that revolved around the characters of Samantha Allen, her unwise husband, Josiah Allen, and an aging, man-hungry spinster, Betsey Bobbet.

All of Holley's ten "Samantha" books follow a set pattern. In the beginning of each story, Samantha encounters a problem that necessitates leaving on a journey outside of her rural hometown. On her journey, Samantha displays small-town common sense that Holley used to satirize big-city American life. Through Samantha, Holley tackled tough issues like women's suffrage, gender equality, and temperance that gave her humorous novels an insightful social perspective that won her the friendship of prominent reformers, including Susan B. Anthony.

In light of the numerous journeys that Samantha takes, it is ironic that Holley herself rarely left Jefferson County. Indeed, she did not go on her first trip until she was 45 years old, and turned down numerous speaking invitations, including requests to address the US Congress on the subject of women's suffrage. She lived quietly at her family home until she died peacefully at the age of 90 in 1926.

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Other Resources

  • American Association of University Women, Women of Courage: Ten North Country Pioneers in Profile. Marietta Holley: Best Selling Writer.
  • Houghton Mifflin. Kate Winter, Marietta Holley, in The Heath Anthology of American Literature, ed. Paul Lauter. 4th ed, Volume II. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 2001.