Marthalou Hunter was born in Weaverville, North Carolina, in 1914. She attended Western Carolina Teachers’ College in Cullowhee (now Western Carolina University) for two years and then studied at the University of Arizona. She attended nursing school at Duke University for one year but received her bachelor’s degree from Western Carolina and taught science from 1936 to 1938 at Celeste Hinkle High School in Statesville, North Carolina. In 1938, she got a job at the State Laboratory of Hygiene, where she worked until 1942. While there, she did one year of graduate study at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland.
In 1942, Hunter joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. She completed Officer Candidate School at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, as a member of the third WAAC class. Hunter was then stationed in Daytona Beach, Florida, from November 1942 to March 1943, where she helped establish a second WAAC training center. Hunter then took a WAAC company to Fort Frances E. Warren in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where she remained through the fall. Her next assignment was doing laboratory work at Fitzsimmons General Hospital in Denver, Colorado, but she was not there long before being sent back to Daytona Beach, and from there to Brookley Field at Mobile, Alabama.
Hunter was then assigned to overseas duty. In June 1944 she arrived in the U.K. and was first stationed in Salisbury, England, at the First Medical General Lab (FMGL) for the European Theater of Operation. She also served briefly in Le Havre, France, and Darmstadt, Germany, before returning to the U.S. in December 1946.
Following her discharge in early 1947, Hunter worked at the Veterans Administration (VA) hospital in Swannanoa, North Carolina, before getting her master’s at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina. She then worked at the VA Hospital in Dublin, Georgia, and for nine years at a VA Hospital in Atlanta. Hunter later retired from the Centers for Disease Control.