Martha J. Lamb Papers
Martha J. Nash was born in Plainfield, Massachusetts on 13 August 1826, the third of the four children of Arvin Nash and Lucinda Vinton. Her mother died when Martha was a child and her father remarried and with his second wife had two more children. Martha Nash was educated at several schools in Massachusetts: in Goshen, at the Williston Seminary in Easthampton (1844-45), and at the Northampton High School. She did especially well in mathematics and taught that subject at schools in Newark, New Jersey and Maumee, Ohio.
On 8 September 1852 she married Charles A. Lamb in Maumee. He was a mechanic who had two daughters from an earlier marriage. The Lambs moved to Chicago in 1857 and Martha became involved in charity work. She was a founder of the Home for the Friendless and the Half-Orphan Asylum. In 1863 she served as secretary of Chicago's first Sanitary Fair, held to raise money for soldiers' relief.
Shortly after the Civil War, Martha Lamb's marriage ended in divorce and it became necessary for her to support herself financially. She moved to New York City after 1866 and acted upon her belief that a woman "with any brains or any sort of intellectual capacity" should work at a significant occupation. She decided to follow her literary aspirations (first manifested in 1847 when she published an article in her local newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton, Massachusetts) and published a series of children's stories in 1869 and 1870. In the 1870s she also wrote Spicy, a romance novel featuring the Sanitary Fair and the Chicago Fire; several Christmas annuals; and articles on a wide array of subjects for Harper's and other periodicals. She also edited The Homes of America. In the course of this writing she realized writing history was her true calling and she began extensive research for History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress. The first volume on the colonial period was published in 1877; the second volume appeared in 1880. Although she was not trained as a professional historian and favored a narrative rather than analytical approach, her work was praised by the renowned contemporary historian, George Bancroft. In 1883, Lamb purchased the Magazine of American History, a financially struggling monthly founded in 1877. She devoted herself to editing the magazine for the last decade of her life, producing over fifty signed articles and more that were unsigned. She also published articles by others, original documents, book reviews, and other standard components of a professional historical journal at a time when there was little precedent for such an endeavor. The magazine ceased publication shortly after her death in 1893.
Lamb was a fixture in New York social circles; she had connections with many of the old families she chronicled in her historical writings. She also belonged to numerous historical and patriotic societies. She was twice invited to the White House: President Grover Cleveland gave a dinner in her honor in 1886; in 1889 President Benjamin Harrison recognized her contributions to the centennial celebration of Washington's inauguration with an invitation.
Martha Lamb died of pneumonia in January 1893. Her funeral service was held at the Madison Square Presbyterian Church and she was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Florence, Massachusetts.