Martha Wolfenstein was born to a German-Jewish family in eastern Prussia. When she was an infant, her father Rabbi Samuel Wolfenstein emigrated to the USA to become the leader of a synagogue in St. Louis, Missouri, and a year later the family followed. Martha attended public schools, first in St. Louis and later in Cleveland, Ohio, where the family moved in 1878. After her mother’s death in 1885, she became her father’s housekeeper and confidante. Martha Wolfenstein studied with her father and avidly absorbed his stories of growing up in a small village in Moravia. Shimmele, the "wonder-child" of her novel Idyls of the Gass (1901), was modeled on these stories. Her first published works were translations from German. In the 1890s, she begam tp publish her own stories in all the leading Jewish newspapers and in general periodicals like Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. Her contemporaries considered her full of promise, and she achieved wide recognition, being comparied with the best American Jewish women writers of her day. However, in 1902 she was stricken with tuberculosis, the disease that had already killed her mother and two brothers. She was sick for four years, during which time the Jewish Publication Society issued a collection of her short stories, A Renegade and Other Tales (1905). She also wrote a play that remained unpublished. She died at age 36.