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Ricker, Marilla M.

RICKER, Marilla M.

Born 18 March 1840, New Durham, New Hampshire; died 12 November 1920, Dover, New Hampshire

Daughter of Jonathan and Hannah Stevens Young; married John Ricker, 1863 (died)

Marilla M. Ricker's mother was an educated woman who taught Ricker to read; her father was a prosperous farmer who was an early suffragist and freethinker; Ricker's husband, whom she married when she was twenty-three and he fifty-six, was a wealthy realtor who believed in equality for women. When he died five years after their marriage, he left Ricker a substantial fortune. In her writings, she often remarks on the legal advantages of a widow's position in contrast to a wife's, and the value of financial independence.

After her husband's death, Ricker studied languages in Europe and then settled in Washington, D.C., where she read law in a private office. In 1882, she was admitted to the bar of the Washington, D.C., Supreme Court, having outscored all the men in her examination class. Ricker was later appointed a U.S. commissioner and examiner in chancery and was one of the first women admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ricker pleaded several important test cases in Washington. Although her challenge of the Sunday closing law failed, she succeeded in ending Washington's "poor convicts law," under which convicts were jailed indefinitely for inability to pay fines. For her work in prison reform and legal and financial aid to prisoners and prostitutes, she became known as "the prisoners' friend."

Ricker's activities in the women's rights movement began in 1869, when she attended the first National Woman's Suffrage Association convention in Washington. Years later, Ricker wrote she was so stimulated she "hurried home" to New Hampshire and tried to vote. Although her ballot was refused, she actually succeeded in voting in 1871, becoming the first woman to cast a vote in a state election on the basis of the 14th Amendment.

In addition to suffrage work, Ricker lectured on feminist issues, employed her legal skills on women's behalf, and tried to open positions previously barred to women. In 1890, she gained the right for women to practice law in New Hampshire, and in 1910, at the age of seventy, she attempted to run for governor. Ricker was the first woman to seek a major diplomatic post in the U.S. foreign service, applying unsuccessfully for appointment as minister to Colombia.

The Four Gospels (1911) contrasts Ricker's idols, Thomas Paine and Robert Ingersoll, with Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin. In other free thought essays, Ricker attacks the Bible, the clergy, and missionaries, along with the efficacy of prayer, the immortality of the soul, and other points of Christian doctrine and practice.

In her writings on women's rights, Ricker's various interests converge. Her legal training and lifelong interest in language are evident in her arguments; a frequent theme is the injustice of the use of the pronoun "he" to include women in laws imposing penalties and to exclude them in laws conferring privileges. Her antireligious views are also prominent in her writings on women. In fact, she never separated the two subjects in her thinking and seldom discusses one issue without mentioning the other. Her basic position is revealed in her statement that "the church has done more to degrade woman than all other adverse influences put together."

Ricker's style is direct and colorful. There are few smooth transitions in her writings, and she is given to strong statements, even assigning her essays titles like "I Believe in Neither God Nor the Devil and I Am Not Afraid." She is often intemperate, as in her pamphlet attacking Theodore Roosevelt when he was running for president in 1912; she calls him "coarse, vulgar and obscene," an "unmitigated liar and traitor." As a contemporary observed, "It is her custom to call a spade a spade, and not to beat about the bush in search of euphemistic expressions to gild the edge of criticism."

Other Works:

I Don't Know, Do You? (1916). I Am Not Afraid, Are You? (1917).

Bibliography:

Scales, J., History of Strafford County, New Hampshire (1914).

Other references:

(Dover, N.H.) Foster's Daily Democrat (23 June 1976, 25 June 1976). Granite Monthly (June 1910). New Hampshire Profiles (Sept. 1958). Prologue: The Journal of the National Archives (Winter 1973).

—BARBARA A. WHITE

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