On May 21, 1849, Mary Routh McEnery was born in Marksville, Louisiana, to James and Mary Routh (Stirling) McEnery. Both her father, an Irish immigrant businessman, and her mother came from distinguished families whose members were quite successful in Louisiana business and politics. At some time in the early 1850s the family moved to New Orleans. Mary Routh lived there until August 1879, when she married Alfred Oden Stuart, a cotton planter twenty- eight years her senior, and she moved to his home in Washington, Arkansas. Her one son, Stirling, was born in 1882, but her husband died of a stroke shortly thereafter in 1883.
Following her husband's death, "Routh" McEnery Stuart returned to live in New Orleans and began to teach school and write in order to earn a living, since the postbellum economic depression had severely hurt the financial situation of her extended family. During a vacation to North Carolina in 1887, Stuart serendipitously met Charles Dudley Warner, the editor of Harper's Monthly Magazine, who invited her to submit some of her work to him. She did so shortly thereafter, and he helped place two stories, "Uncle Mingo's 'Speculatioms'" [sic] and "Lamentations of Jeremiah Johnson," in The New Princeton Review and Harper's, respectively; both were published in 1888. It was at this time that Stuart changed her first name to the more easily recognizable "Ruth."
Wishing to be closer to the publishing center of the United States, at some time around 1890 Ruth moved to New York City. The national magazines' appetite for "things Southern" in the late 1880s and 1890s appeared insatiable, and as a result, Stuart was much in demand as a contributor to all of the more famous periodicals. In addition, starting in 1893, Stuart spent a great deal of