Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Tribute to Marietta Holley

"The female Mark Twain." This is how historians refer to Marietta Holley, if refer to her at all (she was largely forgotten until the 1980's). 

Never heard of writer, activist and humorist Marietta Holley?  Don't beat yourself up.  It doesn't help that she wrote under the name "Josiah Allen's Wife," but still you'd think a former literary celebrity, who sold over 10 million books in the 19th century, would have somehow snuck into our literary canon.   

Holley, born in 1836, began publishing poems under a male pseudonym in the 1860's.  In 1870, she sent a poem to Mark Twain's publisher, Elijah Bliss, who strongly encouraged her to write a book, resulting in the Samantha Smith Allen series.  

In Samantha, Marietta created a character who would talk about women’s rights and women’s lives, particularly in rural districts where life was very hard. To defuse resistance to her radical ideas, Samantha had to be a woman who wasn’t a rabid suffragist.  As a woman who could laugh at herself as well as her husband, Josiah Allen’s Wife was accepted as a moderate thinker by the reading public. 

She died in 1936, having written at least 16 books and many poems and short stories. 

Many things about Holley are remarkable: she was tight with both Susan B. Anthony and Mark Twain.  As a pioneer for women's rights, she was invited to speak to congress multiple times.  She brought social and political criticism to the people through her humorous writing, popular among men and women. 

As an early American humorist and critical thinker, she changed the political landscape of her time and paved the way for the likes of Dorothy Parker and Erma Bombeck.  Marietta, you are gone but not forgotten... at least by a handful of us. 


One of her most popular works, Samantha at Saratoga

Dying to know more about Holley vs. Twain?  Check out Marietta Holley and Mark Twain: 

Cultural-Gender Politics and Literary Reputation by Charlotte Templin 

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