Holley was born on July 16, 1836, the youngest of Mary Tabor and John Milton's 7 children. The family lived on a small farm in Jefferson County, NY.  At 14 she ended her formal education to help supplement the family income by giving piano lessons. At 17 she converted to the Baptist faith 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 a successful novelist, she built a mansion called "Bonnie View" near her family's home in Pierrepont. Holley never married. She died on March 1, 1926 at 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 led to 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. She wrote over 25 books, including one collection of poems, two dramas and one long poem between 1873 and 1914. Among her works was a 10-book series that detailed the travels and married life of Samantha and Josiah Allen as they journey outside Samantha's rural hometown, which was similar to Holley's own in Jefferson County, New York. Holley, however, spent most of her life close to her family's farm; aside from Saratoga and Coney Island, she never actually visited the places to which she sent Samantha and her husband, instead depending on maps, guidebooks, and descriptions.
Many of Holley’s writings share the common themes of prohibition and women's rights. Many contemporary writers and suffragists held her in high regard; her famous friends included Susan B. Anthony, Twain, and Clara Barton. Anthony frequently asked Holley to give speeches at suffrage conventions because of Holley's support of women's suffrage, but she 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