Martha Redding Mendenhall grew up in Asheboro and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and graduated from R.J. Reynolds High School in 1937. She studied English and education at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now University of North Carolina at Greensboro). After graduating in 1941, she taught high school history and English in Wagram, North Carolina.
Mendenhall joined the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in 1943 and attended three weeks of basic training at Hunter College in New York. She then went to a ten-week specialist school in Atlanta, Georgia, to become a Link Trainer flight simulator instructor. Mendenhall was first stationed at Whiting Field, Florida, then was moved to Celestial Link Training School in Quonset Point Port, Rhode Island, about a year later. Her last duty station was in Corpus Christi, Texas. Mendenhall left the WAVES in December 1945.
She continued to work in Corpus Christi as a civilian until enrolling at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to get a master’s in English and education. Mendenhall later worked at radio stations and in television production in Whiteville, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C. She also did some work at Michigan State University toward a PhD in communications.