Martha Young was born on her family’s plantation near Newbern, Ala. When she was about six, the family moved to Greensboro, Ala. Young attended the Greensboro Female Academy, where two of her teachers were Louise Clarke Pyrnelle and her aunt Julia Strudwick Tutwiler. Later, she attended Greene Springs School (owned and operated by her grandfather, Henry Tutwiler), Tuscaloosa Female Academy, and Livingston Female Academy (now the University of West Alabama). Young graduated from Livingston in 1880 and returned to her family home. In Greensboro, she cared for her father and siblings and speculated in real estate. Young also began writing down the black dialect stories and songs which had interested her since childhood.
Young’s first story, “A Nurse’s Tale,” appeared in the New Orleans Times-Democrat in 1884. Her stories, poems, and essays were published in other newspapers and in magazines such as Cosmopolitan and The Century Magazine. Young’s dialect stories were popular and were compared to the work of Joel Chandler Harris, creator of “Uncle Remus.” Her first two books, Plantation Songs for My Lady’s Banjo and Plantation Bird Legends, were published in 1901 and 1902, respectively. At this point, Young began writing stories for children as well. Her first children’s book was Bessie Bell, published in 1903. In addition to her writing, Young began giving public readings of her work, which she continued to do for several decades. Her last book was published in 1921. In the last two decades of her life, Young wrote and published poems on religious and sentimental subjects.
Martha Young recorded and published folk songs and stories in black dialect. She also wrote stories for children, nonfiction essays, and poetry.
Please check your local library for these materials. If items are not available locally, your librarian can help you borrow them through the InterLibrary Loan program. Your librarian can also help you find other information about this author.
There may be more information available through the databases in the Alabama Virtual Library. If you are an Alabama citizen, AVL can be used at your public library or school library media center. You can also get a username and password from your librarian to use AVL at home.
Photo from Martha Young, Alabama's Foremost Folklorist, 1982.
Last updated on May 30, 2008.