This article is from the All My Children FAQ, by Margaret Gibbs gibbsm@no_spam.poppyware.com with numerous contributions by others.
Mary Fickett retired briefly from All My Children (1996-1998).
According to soap industry sources, Ms. Fickett asked to be let out
of her contract. During 1995 and 1996 Fickett's Ruth made few
appearances. Dr. Joe, however, often mentioned that she was in the
garden or taking care of Aunt Clara in Iowa. Lee Meriwether was
hired to play Ruth Martin in 1996-98 and Ruth was again a constant
presence in Pine Valley. Then in mid 1998 (? - anyone have a
more accurate date?), something happened between Meriwether and
the producers that had her either going off contract or leaving
the show. Whatever it was has never really been clarified and it
looks like Meriwether has left for good, with Fickett returning
for the Christmas 1998 episode. Ruth's absence between
Meriwether leaving and Fickett returning was explained by
having her go to Mexico to lend her nursing expertise to the
medical folks down there.
In a related sub-question...
Q: Who, or what, is CatRuth? Did Lee Meriwether play her?
A: When Lee Meriwether assumed the role of Ruth Martin,
R.A.T.S.A.-AMC fans of Mary Fickett needed a quick way
to differentiate between the two actresses. Ms. Fickett's
character became Original Ruth, while Ms. Meriwether was
nicknamed CatRuth, in homage to her role as Catwoman on TV's
"Batman." CatRuth is slightly younger than Original Ruth, and
is suspected of being the reason behind Dr. Joe's constant smile.