Foley, Martha (c. 1897–1977)

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Foley, Martha (c. 1897–1977)

American editor and writer who was co-founder and co-editor of the magazine Story. Born Martha Foley around 1897 in Boston, Massachusetts; died of heart disease on September 5, 1977, in Northampton, Massachusetts; daughter of Walter Foley and Margaret (McCarthy) Foley; married Whit Burnett (an editor, writer) in 1930 (divorced 1942); children: David Burnett (b. 1931).

Worked as a Paris reporter for New York Herald (1927); served as European correspondent for New York Sun (1929); was co-editor of Story (1931–42); lectured at University of Colorado (1935–36), Columbia University (1936), and New York University (1937); taught at Columbia University (1945–66).

Works include:

The Story of Story Magazine: A Memoir (posthumously published, 1980); contributed short stories to periodicals; (co-editor) A Story Anthology, 1931–1933: Thirty-three Selections From The European Years of "Story," the Magazine Devoted Solely to the Short Story (1933); (co-editor) Story in America, 1933–1934: Thirty-four Selections From The American Issues of "Story," the Magazine Devoted Solely to the Short Story (1934); (co-editor) U.S. Stories: Regional Stories from the Forty-eight States (1949); (co-editor) The Best of the Best American Short Stories, 1915–1950 (1952); (co-editor) Two Hundred Years of Great American Short Stories (1975); editor or co-editor of the annual The Best American Short Stories (1942–76).

A writer and editor who dedicated her career to the short-story genre, Martha Foley was born around 1897 in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father Walter Foley, a doctor, wanted Martha to be a teacher like her mother Margaret McCarthy Foley , but Martha displayed an early desire to be a writer. Her first short story was published in her school magazine when she was only 11. From 1909 to 1915, Foley attended the Boston Girls' Latin School; she then attended Boston University for two years before moving to New York to work. In 1922, she relocated to southern California, where she met editor Whit Burnett.

By 1926, Foley and Burnett were both working in New York, and by 1927 in Paris—she as a writer, he as an editor. In 1929, they worked in Vienna, Austria, for the Consolidated Press, for which Foley was Central European correspondent. In 1930, they married in a Vienna town hall, and in 1931 their son David Burnett was born. Foley had recognized a need for a magazine devoted to short stories, and in the spring of 1931 she and Burnett published the first issue of Story magazine. The couple made no profit on the 167 mimeographed copies but were undaunted; their magazine was a literary "crusade" more than a business venture. Their dedication to fresh, top-quality stories, and aversion to the "too slick … pseudo O. Henry school of writing" paid off, and Story quickly garnered recognition and more readers.

In 1933, they relocated their reputable magazine to New York City. Maintaining high standards and rejecting superficial stories with "trick endings," they introduced such writers as Tess Slesinger , Richard Wright, and William Saroyan. Then in 1941, Foley accepted an offer to edit The O'Brien Memorial Best Short Story Yearly Anthology after the death of its editor Edward J. O'Brien, whom Foley counted among the people she "loved best in the world." The story of Story parallels that of Foley and Burnett, and her resignation from their magazine hurt Burnett enough to precipitate their divorce in 1942.

Foley went on to edit The Best American Short Stories for Houghton-Mifflin for the next 34 years, co-editing it with her son David from 1958 until his death in 1971. She taught at Columbia University from 1945 to 1966, where she encouraged young writers, and died in Massachusetts on September 5, 1977. Whit Burnett re-married in 1942, and his second wife Hallie Southgate Burnett edited Story with him. Story magazine struggled after 1948, disappeared in 1951, resurfaced in 1960, and, lacking reader support, finally perished four years later.


Current Biography, 1941. Edited by M. Block. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1941.

suggested reading:

Foley, Martha. The Story of STORY Magazine: A Memoir. Edited by J. Neugeboren. NY: Norton, 1980.

Jacquie Maurice , Calgary, Alberta, Canada