A female Mark Twain: North country author used humor & wit to promote women’s rights

Marietta Holley: Writing for Rights
Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 6:40 AM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - “Marietta Holley was known as the female Mark Twain because of her style of humor and satire,” said Toni Engleman, who’s executive director of the Jefferson County Historical Society.

Holley was born in Ellisburg in 1836 and was a talented writer from the start. It didn’t take long for her to join the women’s rights movement — in her own way.

“Marietta was huge into suffrage and back in the day you couldn’t just outright say ‘women’s rights, women’s rights,’ but she got her point across by writing humorous books,” Engleman said, “so people were reading about the women’s movement without knowing they were reading about the women’s movement.”

She published more than 25 books and sold millions of copies. Her most popular were about a woman named Samantha, who would often question social issues.

“Here we have Samantha on Children’s Rights, by Josiah Allen’s Wife,” Engleman said.

This was her pen name, a stab at the way women didn’t have their own status and instead used their husbands’.

“Back in the 1880s Marietta was one of the most famous writers, and through her writing she let women know that they had power.”

And she had some pretty powerful friends. Suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would write to her, offering new ideas for Samantha.

As did Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross.

Marietta never rose to the same level of notoriety as these women, mainly because she was a very shy recluse. She rarely left the north country.

“Marietta had a mansion she built by Pierrepont Manor that still stands today, Bonnie View,” Engleman said.

Marietta is buried here at Pierrepont Manor Cemetery. The woman known as Josiah Allen’s Wife never married. Some wonder if it was to prove a point.

“It’s nice during Women’s History Month to be able to recognize Marietta Holley,” Engleman said. “She was such an important part of the women’s movement and she is very dear to the north country.”