Martha Jane Knowlton Coray was born on June 3, 1821 (note that some sources cite her birth date as June 2nd or 21st) in Covington, Kentucky to Sidney Algernon and Harriett Burnham Knowlton, both of whom were from New England. She was the granddaughter of the distinguished Lieutenant Daniel Knowlton who served in the Continental and Revolutionary Wars. When she was a child, her parents moved to Ohio and then later to Hancock County, Illinois where they were living in 1838 when the Mormons were driven out of Missouri. Her kindhearted father employed some of the driven Saints and furnished others with houses. Martha Jane was so impressed with the sermons of Elder George A. Smith that she was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in January of 1840. Some records claim that Elder Howard Coray who would later become her husband baptized her, but others records dispute that information, asserting that Coray himself was not even a member of the church yet at that time. Nonetheless, on February 6, 1841, Martha Jane married Howard Coray at her father's home with Robert B. Thompson performing the ceremony. Later in January of 1846, Martha Jane and Howard received their endowments in the Nauvoo temple and were sealed to each other and had their two children sealed to them. Martha Jane was in Nauvoo at the time of the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith and was present with the Saints when they realized that Brigham Young was to be Joseph's successor. In the spring of 1846, Martha Jane and her family left Nauvoo with the Saints to travel west. In 1850 after having given birth to three children along the way, she finally reached Salt Lake City with the John Sharp Company. In total, Martha Jane had 12 children: seven sons and five daughters. In 1857 during the threat of Johnston's army, Martha Jane and her family moved south to Provo where they encountered many hardships and were destitute. Later in 1871, Martha Jane and her family moved to Mona, Juab County to homestead a government section, but they kept their home in Provo and traveled back and forth between Provo and Mona. Martha Jane was always very active in academia, having assisted her husband in his school teaching when they lived in Nauvoo and then later filling her husband's position at the University of Deseret while he served a mission for the LDS church. In October of 1875, Martha Jane was selected by Brigham Young to serve as the first woman trustee for the Board of Directors of Brigham Young Academy. Martha Jane served as trustee from 1875 until her death in 1881 and was responsible for hiring the first master of Brigham Young Academy, Karl G. Maeser. After Martha Jane died in Provo, Utah on December 14, 1881, a funeral service was held in the Provo Tabernacle on the following Sunday, December 25, 1881, and speakers included President Abraham Owen Smoot, Joseph F. Smith, President Wilford Woodruff, and Captain Hooper. Martha Jane had been faithful to the gospel throughout her life, having been a close personal friend of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Patriarch Hyrum Smith, and Joseph Smith, Sr. She served the church faithfully as a Sunday School teacher and Relief Society secretary, both in Nauvoo and Salt Lake City. Martha Jane even performed the task of preserving notes from the sermons of the Prophet Joseph Smith, which church historian President Woodruff consulted for information he could not obtain elsewhere. One of Martha Jane's major contributions to LDS church history involved writing the history of Joseph Smith as dictated by his mother Lucy Smith.
This collection contains a vast amount of typewritten biographical information about Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, much of which was written by her daughter Martha C. Lewis. Other biographical sources include articles from the Improvement Era and The Juvenile Instructor. This collection also contains a transcript and the copied holographs of Martha Jane's diary as well as her original journals and typescript copies of her journals that detail financial information and daily activities. Martha Jane's notes from the sermons of Latter-day Saint General Authorities, including Joseph Smith, Sr., Brigham Young, George A. Smith, Bishop Smoot, and Orson Hyde, are also found as copied holographs in this collection. Martha Jane's two patriarchal blessings, the first given by Joseph Smith Sr. on January 21, 1840 and the second given by Hyrum Smith on November 8, 1841, are included as holographs in this collection as well. Much of the material in this collection praises Martha Jane Knowlton Coray as a faithful Latter-day Saint, devoted mother, and well-educated, though self-taught, woman.