Holley was born on to John Milton and Mary Tabor on July 16, 1836. She was the youngest of seven children. They lived on a small farm in Jefferson County, NY.  At the age of 14, she ended her formal education to make a decent living and help support her family by giving piano lessons to students. When she was 17, she converted to baptists and joined the Adams Village Baptist Church. Her father died when she was 25, and Holley took charge of the farm and care of her sick mother and sister. After she became successful as a writer from her novels, she built a mansion called "Bonnie View" near her family's home in Pierrepont. Holley never married. She died on March 1, 1926 at the age of 89.
Holley enjoyed a prolific writing career, and was a bestselling author in the late 19th-century, though she was widely forgotten by the time of her death. Her first poems were published locally in the Adams Journal, which lead to later successes in more prominent periodicals, such as Peterson's Magazine. In 1872, her first novel, My Opinions and Betsey Bobbet's, was released by the American Publishing Company. In total, Holley wrote over 25 books, including one collection of poems, two dramas and one long poem between 1873 and 1914. Included in her works was a series of ten books that revolved around a character named Samantha and her husband Josiah Allen as they journey outside of Samantha's rural hometown, similar to her home in Jefferson County, NY. Holley spent most of her life close to her family's farm, rarely leaving. Aside from Saratoga and Coney Island, Holley never actually visited the places she wrote about in her Samantha series. She depended on maps, guidebooks and descriptions and to write her narratives based on the learned knowledge. 
Many of Holley’s writings share the common themes of women’s rights and prohibition. She was well regarded by many contemporary writers and suffragists. Her famous friends included Susan B. Anthony, Twain and Clara Barton. Anthony frequently asked Holley to give speeches at suffrage conventions due to the strong stand Holley took in support of women's suffrage, though Holley refused public appearances.
- My Opinions and Betsey Bobbet's: Designed as a Beacon Light, To guide Women to Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, But which May Be read by Members of the Sterner Sect, Without Injury to Themselves or The Book. Josiah Allen’s Wife. Hartford Conn., : American Publishing Company, 1873, c. 1872.
- Josiah Allen’s Wife as a P.A. and P.I.: Designed as a Bright and Shining Light, To Pierce the Fogs of Error and Injustice That Surround Society and Josiah, And to Bring More Clearly to View the Path That Leads Straight on to Virtue and Happiness. Josiah Allen’s Wife. Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Company, c. 1877.
- Betsey Bobbet: A Drama. Adams, N.Y.: W. J. Allen, 1880
- The Lament of the Mormon Wife. Josiah Allen’s Wife. Hartford, Conn. : American Publishing Company, 1880.
- My Wayward Pardner; or, My Trials with Josiah, America, the Widow Bump, and Etcetery. Josiah Allen’s Wife. Hartford Conn., American Publishing Company, 1880.
- Miss Richard’s Boy and Other Stories. Hartford, Ct.: American Publishing, 1883.
- Sweet Cicely: Josiah Allen as a Politician. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1885.
- Miss Jones' Quilting and Other Stories. New York: J.S. Ogilvie, 1887.
- Poems. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1887
- Samantha at Saratoga or Flirtin’ with Fashion. Philadelphia: Hubbard Brothers, 1887.
- Samantha Among the Brethren. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1890.
- Samantha on the Race Problem. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1892; republished 1898 as Samantha Among the Colored Folks.
- Tirzah Ann's Summer Trip and Other Sketches. New York: F. M. Lupton, 1892
- Samantha at the World’s Fair. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1893.
- Widder Doodle’s Love Affair and Other Stories. New York: F. M. Lupton, 1893.
- Josiah's Alarm and Abel Perry’s Funeral. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1895.
- Samantha in Europe. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1895.
- Samantha at the St. Louis Exposition. New York: G. W. Dillingham, 1904.
- Around the World With Josiah Allen’s Wife. New York: G. W. Dillingham, 1905.
- Samantha Vs. Josiah: Being the Story of the Borrowed Automobile and What Became of It. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1906.
- Samantha on Children’s Rights. New York: G. W. Dillingham, 1909.
- Josiah’s Secret. Watertown, N.Y.: Hungerford-Holbrook, 1910.
- How I Wrote My First Books. Harper’s Bazaar (September 1911).
- Samantha at Coney Island and a Thousand Other Islands. New York: Christian Herald., 1911.
- Samantha on the Woman Question. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1913.
- Josiah Allen on the Woman Question. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1914.
- What Is Behind Ouija? The World Magazine (27 June 1920): 5,13.
- The Story of My Life, Published serially. Watertown Daily Times, Watertown, N.Y., 5 February to 9 April 1931.
- Lauter, Paul. "The Heath Anthology of American Literature".
- "Harvard University Library Open Collections Program". Harvard University. Retrieved May 1, 2011.
- Works by Marietta Holley at Project Gutenberg
- Marietta Holley's 1890 Book 'Samantha Among the Bretheren' has been serialized in Mister Ron's Basement Podcast
- Marietta Holley (links, bibliography, and pictures at the American Authors site)
- Electronic Books
- Marietta Holley site created by South Jefferson Central School Students