Born Anna Mary Robertson in upstate New York in 1860, Grandma Moses received little formal education and spent her girlhood working on her parents' farm. At the age of twelve she left home to cook, clean, and care for neighboring families. In 1887 she married a farmer, Thomas Moses, and moved with him to Staunton, Virginia, where she continued her life of hard work and eventually gave birth to ten children, five of whom survived. Eighteen years later the Moses family returned to New York State to run a dairy farm. Only after the death of her husband in 1927 did Moses devote herself to painting.
She came to painting through her embroidered yarn pictures. She had to stop her embroidery because severe arthritis made it difficult to hold a needle, so she began to explore oil painting. Although her early works relied on illustrated books and prints, Moses gradually developed her own sense of color and design. Her landscapes were inspired by farm activities. Though she concentrated on capturing the atmosphere of the farm through the seasons, she also used dabs of paint to depict figures at work. Her range of subject matter was narrow—the farm life she loved—but she was a master at presenting these scenes.
After first showing her paintings at county fairs, in 1938 Moses exhibited several works in a local store, where they were seen by a New York City collector, Louis J. Caldor. By 1940 she had had her first one-person show at the Galerie St. Étienne, New York, and Gimbel's department store displayed her works at Thanksgiving time. Her popularity spread even further when her first Christmas cards were issued in 1946. She was befriended by presidents, awarded two honorary doctorates, and became the recipient of many accolades during her lifetime. Moses died in 1961 at the age of 101 in Hoosick Falls, New York.