Martin is the daughter of Jacob and Helen Perlman. In 1898 Jacob was born in Białystok, then part of the Russian Empire now in Poland. Jacob immigrated to the United States in 1912. In 1925, he received his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin, in economics. Jacob married Helen Aronson in 1935, and they moved to Washington, D.C., where Martin was born in 1938.
Martin spent a significant part of her childhood in Washington, D.C., where she still lives and works, graduating from Georgetown Day School. She lived in various foreign capitals as a child, as her father, a United Nations economist, was frequently transferred. Martin is a graduate of Wellesley College with a degree in English. Before she began the advice column, she was a journalist, covering social events at the White House and embassies; she then became a theater and film critic.
Since 1978, she has written an advice column, which is distributed three times a week by Universal Uclick and carried in more than 200 newspapers worldwide. In the column, she answers etiquette questions contributed by her readers and writes short essays on problems of manners, or clarifies the essential qualities of politeness.
Judith Martin writes about the ideas and intentions underpinning seemingly simple rules, providing a complex and advanced perspective, which she refers to as “heavy etiquette theory”. Her columns, noted for their admonishing tone and sarcasm as well as their broad knowledge of history and customs and their applications to the problems of today, have been collected in a number of books. In her writings, Martin refers to herself in the third person (e.g., “Miss Manners hopes...”).
In a 1995 interview by Virginia Shea, Miss Manners said,
“You can deny all you want that there is etiquette, and a lot of people do in everyday life. But if you behave in a way that offends the people you're trying to deal with, they will stop dealing with you...There are plenty of people who say, 'We don't care about etiquette, but we can't stand the way so-and-so behaves, and we don't want him around!' Etiquette doesn't have the great sanctions that the law has. But the main sanction we do have is in not dealing with these people and isolating them because their behavior is unbearable.”
Martin identifies “blatant greed” as the most serious etiquette problem in the United States. The most frequently asked question she receives is how to politely demand cash from potential gift-givers (there is no polite way to do this), and the second most common question is how much potential guests must spend on a gift (determined by what the giver can afford, not by the event, relationship, related expenses or other factors).
Starting August 29, 2013, Martin's children shared credit for some of her columns. Her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, helped write some columns, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin, worked on others.
Martin was the recipient of a 2005 National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush. On March 23, 2006, she was a special guest correspondent on The Colbert Report, giving her analysis of the manners with which the White House Press Corps spoke to the President.
Some of Martin's writings were collected and set to music by Dominick Argento in his song cycle Miss Manners on Music.
Since its launch in 2008, Judith Martin has been a contributor for wowOwow, a Web site for women to talk culture, politics, and gossip.
Martin's uncle was economist and labor historian Selig Perlman.The Name on the White House Floor
Style and Substance
Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior
Miss Manners Rescues Civilization: From Sexual Harassment, Frivolous Lawsuits, Dissing and Other Lapses in Civility
Miss Manners on Weddings
Miss Manners on Painfully Proper Weddings
Common Courtesy: In Which Miss Manners Solves the Problem That Baffled Mr. Jefferson
Miss Manners' Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium
Miss Manners' Basic Training: Communication
Miss Manners' Basic Training: The Right Thing To Say
Miss Manners' Basic Training: Eating
Miss Manners' Guide to Rearing Perfect Children
Miss Manners' Guide to Domestic Tranquility: The Authoritative Manual for Every Civilized Household, However Harried
Miss Manners: A Citizen's Guide to Civility
No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice
Miss Manners Minds Your Business with Nicholas Ivor Martin