"The Wife of His Youth" follows Mr. Ryder, a bi-racial man who was born and reared free before the Civil War. He heads the "Blue Veins Society", a social organization for colored people in a northern town; the membership consists of people with a high proportion of European ancestry, who look more white than black. The organization's name stemmed from the joke that one would have to be so white (to be a member) that veins could be seen through the skin.
Ryder is sought after by the town's women but begins courting a very light mixed-race woman from Washington, DC named Molly Dixon. He plans to propose to her at the next Blue Vein ball, for which he is giving a speech. Before the talk, he meets an older, plain-looking black woman. Her name is 'Liza Jane, and she is searching for her husband Sam Taylor, whom she has not seen in 25 years. She says she was married to Sam before the Civil War, when she was enslaved and he was a hired apprentice to the family of her master. Despite Taylor's being a free black, the family tried to sell him into slavery. She assisted Sam in escaping, and he promised to return and free her, but she was sold to a different master. Ryder says that Taylor could have died, may have outgrown her, or could have remarried. However, she persists in saying that her husband has remained faithful, and refuses to stop looking. Ryder advises her that slave marriages did not count after the war; marriages had to be officially made legal. She shows him an old picture of Sam and leaves.
At the ball Ryder addresses the members and tells them 'Liza Jane's story. At the conclusion, he asks the attendees whether or not they think the man should acknowledge his wife. Everyone urges yes. He brings out 'Liza and says, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the woman, and I am the man, whose story I have told you. Permit me to introduce to you the wife of my youth."