Anna Riker Tom, the wife of Thomas (6) Addis Emmet Jr., was the daughter of Jane Riker and John Tom, a New York City merchant who died when only 32. Jane Riker came from a well-known New York family, the daughter of Anna (Lawrence) and Samuel Riker. Her older brother, Richard (1773-1842) was a prominent lawyer in New York and a friend of Thomas (1) Addis Emmet (TAE).
The original Riker (von Rycken) came from Holland in 1630 and received some land on the Bouwerie; his son Abraham obtained more land there in 1654 and an island in 1664, now known as Riker's Island, which he bought from Mattano, the chief of Staten Island, for "fifty-eight fathom of wampum, seven coats, one blanket and four kettles."
He lived to be over 70 and his son, also named Abraham lived to age 90. This Abraham Jr., said to be highly intelligent, went blind in his old age. While sitting under a pear tree on his lawn in Newtown, NY (now part of Queens), he suddenly found that he could see again. He rushed into his house to look at his children and the grandchildren he had never seen, but when he returned to his seat under the tree, he died.
One of the children, Andrew, inherited the family property and Andrew's son Samuel married Anna Lawrence and raised eight children there, one of whom was Jane Margaret Riker, the mother of Anna. Jane's marriage to Mr Thom only lasted four years due to his early death, and Anna was their only child. Three years later, in 1807, Jane married Dr. William James MacNeven, a close friend of TAE and a fellow United Irishman (UI). Like her Riker ancestors, Jane lived until her 86th year.
Dr. MacNeven was born in Ireland in 1763 and attended "hedge schools," the only form of education Catholic children could have. Priests or others who could read and write met with children behind one hedge or another, in barns or abandoned buildings —wherever they could hide from British authorities who had forbidden Catholics to go to school. To make sure he had a proper education, his parents sent MacNeven to Europe when he was twelve to live with an uncle in Prague; from the classical schools there, the boy went on to medical school in Vienna, returning to Dublin to set up his own practice.
Within a few years he had allied himself with the progressive faction of Catholics and began to press for emancipation and the repeal of the "Penal Laws." Realizing that an uprising was imminent, MacNeven went to Europe in 1797 in an effort to enlist support from Napoleon. His letter to government officials in Paris was intercepted by the English, who arrested him on March 12th, 1798, soon after his return to Ireland. He found himself in Kilmainham with his colleagues from the Society of United Irishmen (UI), and with T(1)AE was part of the group who negotiated an agreement with British authorities in Dublin to permit the exile of the jailed Society members.
After his imprisonment with TAE in Fort George, Scotland, he again tried to persuade the French to intervene in Ireland's struggle for independence. Failing in that mission, MacNeven sailed to New York in 1805 and resumed his medical career with great success. He became a professor at the College of Physicians and Surgeons and at Rutgers Medical College; he wrote medical textbooks and, in 1807, Pieces of Irish History with TAE. He was a leader of the American Irish community; together with Emmet he set up numerous institutions and programs to help Irish immigrants.
Anna referred to MacNeven as her father in her letters, and when he was dying in 1841, he lived with her and her husband, Tom (6) Emmet Jr. in Astoria, NY. She bore ten children, all of whom died before reaching the age of 40, and all pre-deceased her. The youngest, Dudley Selden Emmet (37), died in 1866, and Anna lived twenty more years without her husband and without children or grandchildren.
Anna is mentioned in The Part Taken by Women in American History as a "social leader prominent in the charitable work" of New York - a person who devoted much of her time to public and private charities. She was a great friend of a woman named Mary Delafield DuBois; they were both politically aware and very concerned that New York City had an extremely high infant mortality rate. DuBois knew this from personal experience, as three of her ten children had died as babies.
In 1854, most hospitals refused to admit single pregnant mothers as they were considered morally deficient and not worthy of medical care by (largely male) doctors. When both parents in a family worked during the day, babies were often left at home alone for hours at a time, leading to accidental deaths and injuries. Women who were hired as wet-nurses were usually asked by their employers to leave their own babies at home with caretakers —a process known as "farming out." It was documented that 90% of farmed out babies died before their first birthday.
Dubois and Anna Emmet decided to open an institution called "The Nursery for the Children of Poor Women," and within three weeks raised $10,000 from their friends and contacts. Located in a small house in New York City on St. Mark's Place, the nursery opened on May 1, 1854. Their mission was to look after the babies of wet-nurses and provide day care services for children of working parents. A governing board of 24 Lady Managers had total authority over the institution. Four male attending physicians were invited to visit "occasionally."
The institution became so popular that within a year it moved to a larger building on 15th Street and 6th Avenue, serving children from six weeks to six years of age. Over time, the all female staff took on other tasks such as acting as an employment agency for wet-nurses and as a refuge for infants whose mothers were sick or dead. The institution continued and thrived long after both Dubois and Emmet had died, eventually becoming a part of New York Hospital. Historians give these two women credit for launching the day care movement in New York.
Anna spent her final days living with the son of her half-sister, Jane (Macneven) Purdy. His name was William MacNeven Purdy and his house at 242 Lexington Avenue was where Anna died on June 2, 1886.