|Born||Martha George Rogers
November 30, 1843
|Died||April 18, 1912
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
|William W. Ripley|
Martha George (Rogers) Ripley (1843-1912) of Lowell, Vermont was an American physician, suffragist, professor of medicine, and founder of the Maternity Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She also served six years as president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association.
Martha George Rogers was born November 30, 1843, in Lowell, Vermont, the oldest of five children of Esther Ann (George) and Francis Rogers, a stock farmer. The family moved to the Iowa frontier, where she attended high school (leaving without a diploma). She was awarded a first-class teacher's certificate and taught elementary school for a time. In 1867 she married rancher William Warren Ripley, and shortly thereafter they moved back to his home state of Massachusetts, where he took up a job as manager of his uncle's paper mill in Lawrence. The couple had three daughters, Abigail, Clara, and Edna May. Within a few years, William had bought his own mill and moved the family to Middleton.
Ripley joined the suffragists in 1875 and worked to establish an active suffrage group in Middleton. The success of her efforts gained her a place in the statewide suffrage movement, and she was elected to both the central committee and the executive committee of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, serving in both capacities until 1883.
Ripley's concern over the health issues facing women who worked in the Massachusetts textile mills prompted her to go to medical school. She chose Boston University Medical School (from which one of her sisters had recently graduated) and earned her M.D. degree in 1883. That same year, her husband was badly injured in a mill accident and forced to retire from his mill business. Now dependent financially on Ripley's ability to earn a living, the couple moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where William had relatives and where a growing industrial sector offered scope for enterprising incomers.
With some difficulty, Ripley established a medical practice in Minneapolis and became a successful obstetrician. She received her license to practice in 1883, making her one of the first two dozen licensed women doctors in the state. She often spoke out about public health issues such as city sanitation, clean water, food adulteration, and crowding of patients in hospitals. She became an early advocate for cremation, on the grounds of both public health and reduced costs for the urban poor.
Like other women doctors of the time, Ripley found that most of her patients were women and young children who often had trouble accessing hospital care; for instance, no Minneapolis hospitals of the era would admit a pregnant woman who was unmarried. So Ripley started a new hospital run by and for women, especially women in economically straightened circumstances. Incorporated in 1887, her Maternity Hospital--later renamed Ripley Memorial Hospital--remained in operation until 1957, when it was closed due to low occupancy and funding problems. The hospital structure was sold, and the proceeds were used to create the Ripley Memorial Foundation. Since 1993, the foundation has focused on supporting programs that prevent teenage pregnancies. In 2007, the hospital building was converted into apartments and renamed Ripley Gardens, a redevelopment funded in part by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Ripley was also a professor of children's diseases at the Homeopathic Medical College in Minnesota.
Starting in 1883, Ripley served six years as president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association and continued for another six years as a member of the association's medical board after stepping down as president. Among the campaigns she was involved in was one to raise the age of consent for girls from 10 years old to 18 years old (which only partly succeeded: in 1891 the state legislature raised the age of consent to 14). At one point, Ripley went so far as to personally petition the state senate for the right to vote.
Ripley was also nominated director of public schools, but she was not elected because she was ineligible as a female. She was active in the Women's Rescue League, which aided prostitutes.
Ripley died on April 18, 1912, of complications from a respiratory infection and rheumatic heart disease. In accordance with her own views, she was cremated. In 1939, a plaque honoring her as a pioneer woman physician and hospital founder was installed in the Minnesota state capitol building.