Martha Joanna Reade Nash was born in Massachusetts and attended Northampton High School. At age 18, she published her first story in her local newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette. In 1852, she married Charles A. Lamb and moved with him to Chicago, where she did charity work. In 1863, Mrs. Lamb was appointed secretary of Chicago's first Sanitary Fair, held to raise money for needy soldiers. Her marriage ended in divorce a few years later, and she had to support herself. She moved to New York City, where she published a series of books and stories for children and edited The Homes of America. She wrote Spicy: A Novel, in 1873. She then decided to pursue a career in writing history, although she was not trained as a professional historian, and began doing the extensive research for History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress. The first volume was published in 1877, and the second volume in 1880. In 1883, she bought the Magazine of American History, a struggling monthly historical journal, and edited it for the last decade of her life. She also wrote more than 50 articles herself. Martha J. Lamb moved in the social circles of many of the wealthy old families she chronicled in her historical writings. She also belonged to numerous historical and patriotic societies. President Grover Cleveland gave a dinner in her honor at the White House in 1886.