Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, 1822-1881

By Dr. Jenel Cope, Faculty of History and Political Science, Grays Harbor College.

Educator, businesswoman, and mother.
Member, Board of Trustees, Brigham Young Academy.

Martha Jane Knowlton Coray was born in Covington, Kentucky on June 3, 1822 to Harriet Burnham and Sydney Algernon Knowlton. After her family moved to Illinois, she was introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and became a baptized member in 1840.

At the age of 19, Martha married Howard Coray in February 1841 in Nauvoo, Illinois. During their courtship, Howard's writings reveal that one of the things that he admired in Martha was her intellect. Historical evidence suggests that the two enjoyed a relatively equitable relationship for their time. Over the course of their marriage the couple had twelve children.

After the death of church founder Joseph Smith, Martha and later Howard were asked by Smith's mother Lucy Mack Smith to assist in writing a biography of her son's life. The two had been friends of Joseph Smith during the years preceding his death.

Due to religious persecution the couple was forced to move from Nauvoo, Illinois to Utah in 1850. The Corays faced financial challenges periodically during their lives in Utah and lived in several different areas including Salt Lake City and Tooele, before establishing a family home in Provo. Though they would later own a farm in Mona they maintained their home in Provo.

Though there is no evidence that Martha ever received any kind of formal education, she taught with her husband at schools in Utah and was known as a dedicated teacher of her own children. She made her own medicinal products, such as oils, for which she obtained patents and successfully sold. In addition, she had a wide range of interests including law and chemistry. After her children were grown Martha was active in local politics and served as a paid legal representative for members of her family and others in the community.

In 1875, Martha was the only woman to be appointed to the original Board of Trustees at Brigham Young Academy (which would later become Brigham Young University) where she helped select the curriculum, focused on the needs of young female students and served on the committee for rules and by-laws. She served on the Board until her death on December 14, 1881.


Anderson, Elizabeth Anne. "Howard and Martha Coray: Chroniclers of Joseph Smith's Words and Life." Journal of Mormon History 33, no. 3 (2007): 83-113.

Billings, Amy Reynolds. "Faith, Femininity, and the Frontier: The Life of Martha Jane Knowlton Coray." Thesis, Brigham Young University, 2002.

"Register of the Howard Coray Family Papers, 1843-1965." L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University. 1980.

"Coray family papers," Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library, L. Tom Perry Special Collections.

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