An early advocate for women's health and welfare
When Dr. Martha Ripley and her family moved to Minneapolis in 1883, she had just completed medical training at Boston University School of Medicine. At forty-one, though, she was no newcomer to the medical profession. Born in Vermont, she was introduced to medicine through nursing victims of diphtheria epidemics. She tried to work as a nurse during the Civil War but was judged too young, and so she recruited others to nursing instead. After her marriage to William Ripley in 1867, the couple moved to Massachusetts, where she continued nursing while also embarking on her lifelong involvement in the woman suffrage movement. After a young child in her care died of croup, she enrolled in medical school.
Ripley established Maternity Hospital in Minneapolis in 1886. At that time, unwed mothers were generally denied hospital admission. Ripley's hospital was open to any woman, regardless of her marital or financial status. As the hospital grew, so did its services. It housed destitute children and unwed mothers and their infants; it provided adoption services; and it provided training and job assistance for single mothers.
From 1883 to 1889, Ripley was president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association. Throughout her life, she was an outspoken advocate for women. She insisted that there be matrons on the Minneapolis police force; she lobbied for the right of female domestic workers to unionize; and she pushed for public health reforms, including better sanitation and clean water. She wore her skirts and hair short to minimize the spread of disease. Her hospital had an enviable rate of infant mortality--only 25 percent that of the national average.
Martha Ripley died in 1912, just as her new hospital on Minneapolis's Glenwood Avenue was being completed. The hospital buildings, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are currently being renovated to provide rental and housing units for low- and moderate-income residents. She wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
"In all these long years it has been like a wise and loving mother to all who have come through its doors. Many girls have said it was the only real home they have ever known."
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