While attending the University of Minnesota in the 1930s Ralph Dickman worked at the Wells Memorial Settlement House in Minneapolis. He graduated the University of Minnesota Law School in 1935 and was admitted to the bar on May 5, 1936. But he did not practice law; instead he decided to devote his life to advancing the welfare of the young and the elderly, as a friend later recalled:
"Pushing aside all personal and aggrandizement, he made up his mind to devote his life to the social betterment of these groups, and so we find them working day and night to establish boys' clubs and mens' club on the East side."
He joined the staff of the B. F. Nelson Settlement House in Northeast Minneapolis, helped found the East Minneapolis Recreation Association and in 1940 was elected Hennepin County Commissioner. Re-elected in 1944, he continued to push for slum clearance, the preservation of the shoreline of Lake Minnetonka and other welfare measures. He died on February 1, 1948, almost forty years old.