MERRICK, MYRA KING (15 Aug. 1825 - 10 Nov. 1899), was a pioneering woman physician. She was born in Hinkley, Leicestershire, England, the daughter of Richard (1795-1887) and Elizabeth (Ball) (1803-1885).
Her family immigrated to Boston, and at age 8, she began work in the textile mills nearby. They moved to Cleveland in 1841. In 1848, she married Charles H. Merrick. When his illness made her the sole supporter of the family, she decided to become a doctor.
Merrick's career illustrates the challenges faced by the first women physicians. Often barred from medical schools and hospitals, they established their own. Unwelcome in the established medical specialties, they laid claim to others. Ignored in public life, they became politically committed to women's causes.
By the mid-nineteenth century, only a tiny handful of women had received medical degrees from allopathic or "regular" medical schools. In 1856, however, the American Medical Association, anxious to maintain the elite status of the new profession, opposed co-education, and the few colleges that had accepted women, including the Cleveland Medical College, then affiliated with Western Reserve College (CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY), refused to admit women.
Women like Merrick found alternative paths to medicine. She studied first at a hydropathic institute and graduated in 1851 from the Central Medical College of Rochester, an eclectic institution that leaned toward homeopathy. In 1852, she became Cleveland’s first woman physician as a practicing homeopath.
HOMEOPATHY became a popular alternative to "heroic" practices like copious bleeding and the vigorous use of emetics used by regularly trained physicians. It also had a substantial following in Cleveland, counting wealthy patients like JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER. In 1856, the city's first organized hospital, the CLEVELAND HOMEOPATHIC HOSPITAL was opened.
Reflecting her own professional difficulties, Merrick became a public advocate of opportunities for women. She was an early supporter of WOMAN SUFFRAGE. In 1869 she was elected president of the Cuyahoga County Woman Suffrage Association.
Merrick also created institutions so that other women could pursue medicine. In 1867, when the Cleveland Western Homeopathic College shut its doors to women, Merrick helped to found the Cleveland Homeopathic College for Women. She served on its faculty and as its president until 1871, when it merged with the Cleveland Western Homeopathic College to become the Cleveland Homeopathic Hospital College.
Merrick taught obstetrics and diseases of women and children, specialties spurned by male doctors but considered especially appropriate for women. In 1878, Merrick, with her daughter-in-law, Dr. Eliza Merrick, founded the Women’s and Children’s Free Medical and Surgical Dispensary. There poor women and children received valuable medical care, unavailable elsewhere, and women doctors, barred from regular hospitals, gained valuable clinical experience. In 1912, the dispensary became WOMAN'S GENERAL HOSPITAL under the direction of Merrick’s protégé, MARTHA ANN ROBINSON CANFIELD.
In 1881, Merrick divorced her husband for desertion. He had also left her in debt. (Until their divorce, she was referred to as “Mrs. Dr. Merrick.”).
Despite her unconventional politics and her divorce, Merrick built a financially successful clientele among Cleveland’s well-to-do citizens. According to Canfield, although Clevelanders initially responded to Merrick with cautious curiosity, she eventually out-earned most of her male contemporaries.
Merrick had two sons: Arthur (d. 1864) and Richard L. She is buried in Butternut Ridge Cemetery, Lorain County, Ohio.
View finding aid for the Chas. H. Merrick Papers, WRHS.
Brown, Kent L. ed. Medicine in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, 1810-1976 (1977).
Gibbons, Marion N., "A Woman Carries the Caduceus—Myra K. Merrick." In Pioneer Women in the Western Reserve, ed. Howard Dittrick (1932).
Ingham, Mary Bigelow, Women of Cleveland and Their Work (1893)
Jenkins, Glen. “Women Physicians and Women’s General Hospital” in Kent L. Brown, ed. Medicine in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, 1810-1976 (1977)
Morton, Marian J. http://teachingcleveland.org/roads-less-traveled-clevelands-women-doctors-1852-1984-by-marian-morton/