She was born on 24 April 1767, the daughter of William Ripley (1739-1784), a Whitby stonemason, builder and pioneer local preacher in the North East whose Memoirs she later published. Her home was open to the Methodist preachers, and she met John Wesley there. Expelled from his house by the Lord of the Manor for supporting the Methodists, her father accompanied Wesley on some of his journeys in 1772 and 1784; Wesley described him as 'a burning and a shining light'. Extracts from his Journal were published in the Wesley Historical Society's Proceedings, vol. 4.
Under Quaker influence, in 1801 Dorothy crossed the Atlantic to work among negro slaves. She had no money, but lived and travelled by faith. She secured the support of Thomas Jefferson and moved from city to city, pleading the cause of the slaves, especially in Charleston. She visited prisons, preached to the Indians and in 1806 preached before Congress in Washington DC. She crossed the Atlantic eight or nine times, kept a journal for 30 years, and published an autobiographical Account of her Extraordinary Conversion and Religious Experience (1817).
'[Dorothy] Ripley's multifaceted evangelistic ministry theologically framed by universal atonement reached out to the multitudes… By integrating verbal proclamation - itinerant preaching and publication - with practices of compassion - visitation and efforts to influence social systems to recognize racial and economic justice - Dorothy Ripley embodied the gospel of Jesus Christ.'
Laceye C. Warner, Saving Women: Retrieving evangelistic theology and practice (2007), p.55