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Marker to honor trailblazing Dover suffragette Marilla Ricker

DOVER - For over 50 years, trailblazing Dover suffragette Marilla Ricker fought for women's right to vote.

In honor of Ricker, who died a few months after the 19th Amendment passed 100 years ago, the Woodman Museum will encourage voters this Election Day to place their "I Voted" stickers on a new temporary marker on its 182 Central Ave. property.

"I'm hopeful it gets some attention," said Patricia Wilson, a local resident creating and installing the marker with the museum’s permission. "It’s always meant a lot to me to say, 'Thank you.’"

Marilla Marks Young Ricker (March 18, 1840 to Nov. 12, 1920) became the first woman to vote but not have her ballot counted when she cast a vote in a Dover election in 1870, according to local historians, a Woodman Museum exhibit and the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire.

The Summer Street resident and widow continued to request a ballot every election for the next five decades, believing her status as a property taxpayer and the 14th Amendment guaranteed her the right to vote.

"Let come what will come," Ricker wrote, "no man, be he priest, minister or judge, shall sit upon the throne of my mind, and decide for me what is right, true, or good."

She was denied every year, but undeterred. She went so far as to attempt to become the first woman to run for governor in New Hampshire in 1910, even though she knew she’d be barred from doing so because she wasn’t recognized as a registered voter.

"I’m running for governor in order to get people in the habit of thinking of women as governor... People have to think about a thing for several centuries before they can get acclimated to the idea. I want to start the ball a’rolling," Ricker said while announcing her run for governor. "There isn’t a ghost of a reason why a woman should not be governor or president if she wants to be and is capable of it."

Ricker died at age 80 a few months after the 19th Amendment was ratified Aug. 18, 1920, giving women the right to vote. Her death, caused by a stroke, occurred less than two weeks after the first federal election in which women were allowed to vote.

Some historians and state officials believe Ricker cast her first and only official ballot in 1920 before her death. The anonymous nature of ballots makes that challenging to confirm.

"We don’t know whether she did or not," said Woodman Museum Operations Director Mike Day.

Regardless, locals revere Ricker and believe she did vote before her death.

The reverence also extends to the fact Ricker was the first woman to practice law in the Granite State, the first to apply for a foreign ambassadorship post, the first to be appointed U.S. commissioner by the District of Columbia’s Supreme Court judges, and the ninth to be admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Her portrait hangs in the New Hampshire Statehouse.

"Marilla Ricker didn’t ask for permission and she didn’t ask for forgiveness," U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., wrote in August in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Shaheen, a Madbury resident, also mentioned Ricker during her inaugural address in 1997 when she became New Hampshire’s first female governor. "She fought for women’s right to vote until her last breath, dying only months after the 19th Amendment was ratified, but not before she cast her first and only vote. Her story is a reminder that we can’t wait for our society to be 'ready’ and that change doesn’t come by waiting, it comes from acting."

Wilson said she was inspired to create a temporary wood and plexiglass marker for Ricker after learning Ricker has no headstone. (Ricker was cremated after she died and her ashes were spread around an apple tree on her family’s farm in New Durham.)

Wilson said she wanted to do so because, as a Rochester, New York, native, she’s well acquainted with the tradition of placing voting stickers on Susan B. Anthony’s grave marker in that city.

Thousands of women annually honor Anthony in this way each year. This Nov. 3, officials expect an even larger showing because of the 19th Amendment’s 100th anniversary and the fact Kamala Harris is the vice presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket.

"There still are issues," Wilson said, referring to women’s rights and the associated fight, "but I think it’s getting better and better."

Wilson and her husband expect to have the temporary marker completed and installed the day before the election.

Wilson and Day hope it’ll will pave the way in 2021 for a permanent marker of some kind honoring Ricker in the Garrison City.

"Perhaps this can have the same tradition," Day said.

The Woodman Museum is at the corner of Central Avenue and Summer Street, a couple of blocks away from Ricker’s former duplex on Summer Street.

Because her home, at 50-52 Summer St., is now a privately owned apartment building, Wilson and Day said they believe it would be appropriate to install a permanent marker outside the Woodman Museum.

While the temporary marker won’t be up outside the museum for a couple of weeks, locals can learn more about Ricker and honor her by visiting the Woodman Museum’s exhibit on her and the suffrage movement.

The exhibit is on display in the museum’s Foster Room through Nov. 29. It includes various scrapbooks, letters and other writing by Ricker, materials from other key New Hampshire figures, information from the National Archives, period suffragette clothing, and more.

Tour reservations are required due to COVID-19 precautions and state orders.

"We set this up before COVID, and our numbers are obviously down because the museum didn’t open until July instead of April," Day said. "We’re limited to five appointments a day, but because we don’t have our typical school groups and there are fewer tourists coming to Dover, we have openings."

For more information about Ricker, the Woodman Museum’s collection and reservation information, visit