Ricker was the President of the Monroe County Homeopathic Medical Society, and in 1891 became a member of American Institute of Homeopathy. She was also a member of the Homeopathic Medical Society of the State of New York, the Medical Women’s National Association and a member of the National Woman Suffrage Association.
Martha Sherman (Ricker) was born in Castile, New York, on 23 July 1852, the daughter of farmer Benjamin Harrington Sherman (1818 – 1887) and Eliza Lewin (1819 – 1902).
She received her literary education in the public schools of Castile, a private school, the Gainesville Seminary, and the State Normal College at Albany, where she graduated in 1875. Her medical education was acquired in the Cleveland Homeopathic Medical College, where she came to her degree in 1888.
Since that time Dr. Ricker has taken several post-graduate courses in New York. In May, 1888, she located in Rochester, where she has since been engaged in the general practice of medicine. She is a member of the medical staff (gynaecologist) of the Rochester Homeopathic Hospital and also of the Door of Hope of Rochester; member and has been secretary and president of the Monroe County Homeopathic Medical Society, and also is a member of the American Institute of Homeopathy, the Western New York and the New York State Homeopathic Medical societies, of the College Woman’s Club and of the board of managers of the Door of Hope Association.
In June 1893, she married inventor and businessman Wentworth Garvin Ricker (1841 – 1926).
Marcena Sherman Ricker was a well-known and highly respected physician in her day. She was a graduate of Rochester City Hospital‘s Training School for Nurses. She began her adult career as a teacher. But after three years, she decided that serving the sick and the less fortunate was her calling.
In 1880, she enrolled with City Hospital’s first class of student nurses, graduating in 1884. Subsequently, she earned her M. D. degree at the Homeopathic Hospital in Cleveland, received post graduate training in New York City, and returned to Rochester in 1888 to establish a private practice that focused on women’s and children’s diseases.
She was a member of the Lake Avenue Baptist Church, where she met her husband, Wentworth G. Ricker, a widower with two daughters and the founder of a Rochester manufacturing concern. They were married in June 1893. For the rest of their lives the Rickers would be among the most active lay leaders of their church.
In addition, Dr. Ricker’s inspiration and leadership led to the creation of the Fairport Baptist Home in 1904.
Although she had graduated from City Hospital’s nurse training school, her preparation as a homeopathic physician precluded her practicing there. But rejection by her alma mater may not have been disappointing to the doctor. She was one of the first women to be appointed to the Rochester Homeopathic Hospital (Genesee Hospital).
Like many of her colleagues, Dr. Ricker considered tending the impoverished sick without charge as her moral duty. In 1894, she served as one of the volunteer medical staff members and a charter member of the Board of Managers of the Door of Hope, a home for unwed mothers on Troup Street. The doctor’s tenure on the Board and on the medical staff of the Door of Hope lasted until the spring of 1912.
Marcena Ricker, M.D. gained distinction by caring for Susan B. Anthony in her final illness. Although she was not herself a suffragist, the physician had long been a close friend of Miss Anthony and her personal physician. It was Dr. Ricker who was the official spokesperson to the press, reporting daily on the condition of her famous patient during her final illness. And on March 13, 1906, it was Dr. Ricker’s description of the suffragist’s final hours that the New York Times relied on for its front-page coverage of Miss Anthony’s death.
Dr. Ricker undertook many other activities in the service of the aged and disadvantaged, her patients, and her community. Other organizations that benefited from her leadership and active involvement include the YWCA and the WCTU. Dr. Ricker died on January 18, 1933.
For an early 20th century physician, a house call might mean spending days, and even nights, at a patient’s bedside. Such was the case when Susan B. Anthony fell ill early in March 1906. Rochesterians learned that the suffragist had come home on March 2 when the Democrat and Chronicle announced:
After a long and exciting life of work for the cause of her sex and humanity, Miss Anthony is now resting from public work. For the next week and a half, Dr. Marcena Ricker, her physician, tended the famous patient and informed the press daily about her condition, keeping a careful balance between hope and despair.
Dr. Ricker was a unique woman for her time. As a woman and a homeopathic physician, she was not invited to join the attending staff of the prestigious Rochester City Hospital, which held religiously to the tenets of regular medicine. The Homeopathic Hospital (now Genesee Hospital), however, welcomed her services.
On Sunday, March 11, the long vigil turned into a deathwatch. Monday’s edition of the newspaper conveyed Dr. Ricker’s diagnosis without its customary Victorian verbal embroidery. ‘Susan B. Anthony is dying,’ the paper reported candidly. At 12:40 a.m. on March 13, the great suffragist died peacefully with Dr. Marcena Ricker at her bedside.
We can wonder if Dr. Ricker ever learned that she had been quoted on the front page of the New York Times. But given her selfless dedication to the unfortunate women of Rochester, it may not have mattered to her. Perhaps what might have meant more is the fact that she and her husband rest in the same neighborhood where her intimate friend, Susan B. Anthony, and so many other dedicated and active women lie, in Mount Hope Cemetery.