Mary Edwards Walker
|Mary Edwards Walker|
Walker with her Medal of Honor
November 26, 1832|
Oswego, New York, U.S.
February 21, 1919 (aged 86)|
Oswego, New York, U.S.
|Resting place||Rural cemetery, Oswego|
Falley Seminary (1850–1852)|
Syracuse Medical College (1853–1855)
Hygeeia Therapeutic College (1862)
|Employer||United States Army|
|Known for||Receiving the Medal of Honor during the American Civil War, was the first female U.S. Army surgeon, prohibitionist, abolitionist, first and only female Medal of Honor recipient|
|Awards||Medal of Honor|
Mary Edwards Walker (November 26, 1832 – February 21, 1919), commonly referred to as Dr. Mary Walker, was an American abolitionist, prohibitionist, prisoner of war and surgeon. She was the only woman to ever receive the Medal of Honor.
In 1855, she earned her medical degree at Syracuse Medical College in New York, married and started a medical practice. She volunteered with the Union Army at the outbreak of the American Civil War and served as a surgeon at a temporary hospital in Washington, D.C., even though at the time women and sectarian physicians were considered unfit for the Union Army Examining Board. She was captured by Confederate forces after crossing enemy lines to treat wounded civilians and arrested as a spy. She was sent as a prisoner of war to Richmond, Virginia until released in a prisoner exchange.
After the war, she was approved for the highest United States Armed Forces decoration for bravery, the Medal of Honor, for her efforts during the Civil War. She is the only woman to receive the medal and one of only eight civilians to receive it. Her name was deleted from the Army Medal of Honor Roll in 1917 (along with over 900 others); however, it was restored in 1977. After the war, she was a writer and lecturer supporting the women's suffrage movement until her death in 1919.
Early life and education
Mary Edwards Walker was born in the Town of Oswego, New York, on November 26, 1832, the daughter of Alvah (father) and Vesta (mother) Walker. She was the youngest of seven children: she had five sisters and one brother. Alvah and Vesta raised both their son and their daughters in a progressive manner that was revolutionary for the time. Their nontraditional parenting nurtured Mary's spirit of independence and sense of justice that she actively demonstrated throughout her life. While they were devoted Christians, the Walkers were "free thinkers" who raised their children to question the regulations and restrictions of various denominations. The Walker parents also demonstrated non-traditional gender roles to their children regarding sharing work around the farm: Vesta often participated in heavy labor while Alvah took part in general household chores. Walker worked on her family farm as a child. She did not wear women's clothing during farm labor because she considered it too restricting. Her mother reinforced her views that corsets and tight lacings were unhealthy.
Her elementary education consisted of attendance at the local school that her parents had started. The Walkers were determined that their daughters be as well-educated as their son, so they founded the first free schoolhouse in Oswego in the late 1830s. After finishing primary school, Mary and two of her older sisters attended Falley Seminary in Fulton, New York. Falley was not only an institution of higher learning, but a place that emphasized modern social reform in gender roles, education, and hygiene. Its ideologies and practices further cemented Mary's determination to defy traditional feminine standards on a principle of injustice. In her free time, Mary would pore over her father's medical texts on anatomy and physiology; her interest in medicine is attributable to her exposure to medical literature at an early age. As a young woman, she taught at a school in Minetto, New York, eventually earning enough money to pay her way through Syracuse Medical College, where she graduated with honors as a medical doctor in 1855, the only woman in her class.
She married a fellow medical school student, Albert Miller, on November 16, 1855, shortly before she turned 23. Walker wore a short skirt with trousers underneath, refused to include "obey" in her vows, and retained her last name, all characteristic of her obstinate nonconformity. They set up a joint practice in Rome, New York. The practice did not flourish, as female physicians were generally not trusted or respected at that time. They later divorced, on account of Miller's infidelity.
Walker briefly attended Bowen Collegiate Institute (later named Lenox College) in Hopkinton, Iowa, in 1860, until she was suspended for refusing to resign from the school's debating society, which until she joined had been all male.
Inspired by her parents' novel standard of dressing for health purposes, Walker was infamous for contesting traditional female wardrobe. In 1871, she wrote, "The greatest sorrows from which women suffer to-day are those physical, moral, and mental ones, that are caused by their unhygienic manner of dressing!" She strongly opposed women's long skirts with numerous petticoats, not only for their discomfort and their inhibition to the wearer's mobility but for their collection and spread of dust and dirt. As a young woman, she began experimenting with various skirt-lengths and layers, all with men's trousers underneath. By 1861, her typical ensemble included trousers with suspenders under a knee-length dress with a tight waist and full skirt.
While encouraged by her family, Walker's wardrobe choices were often met with criticism. Once, while a schoolteacher, she was assaulted on her way home by a neighboring farmer and a group of boys, who chased her and attacked her with eggs and other missiles. Female colleagues in medical school criticized her choices, and patients often gawked at her and teased her. She nevertheless persisted in her mission to reform women's dress. Her view that women's dress should "protect the person, and allow freedom of motion and circulation, and not make the wearer a slave to it" made her commitment to dress reform as great as her zeal for abolitionism. She famously wrote to the women's journal, The Sibyl: A Review of the Tastes, Errors, and Fashions of Society, about her campaign against women's fashion, amongst other things, for its injuries to health, its expense, and its contribution to the dissolution of marriages. Her literature contributed to the spread of her ideas, and made her a popular figure amongst other feminists and woman physicians.
In 1870, Dr. Walker was arrested in New Orleans and mocked by men because she was dressed as a man. The arresting officer Mullahy twisted her arm and asked her if she had ever had sex with a man. Dr. Walker was released from custody when she was recognized at Police Court. New Orleans Republican February 22, 23, 1870. This incident was also cited by Perry Young in the Mistick Krewe, Chronicles of Comus and His Kin, 1931, 159.
American Civil War
Despite having kept a private practice for many years, Walker was compelled at the outbreak of American Civil War to volunteer as a surgeon - first for the Army but was rejected because she was a woman. She was offered the role of a nurse but declined and chose to volunteer as a surgeon for the Union Army as a civilian. The U.S. Army had no female surgeons, and at first, she was allowed to practice only as a nurse. During this period, she served at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), July 21, 1861, and at the Patent Office Hospital in Washington, D.C. She worked as an unpaid field surgeon near the Union front lines, including at the Battle of Fredericksburg and in Chattanooga after the Battle of Chickamauga. As a suffragist, she was happy to see women serving as soldiers, and alerted the press to the case of Frances Hook, in Ward 2 of the Chattanooga hospital, a woman who served in the Union forces disguised as a man. Walker was the first female surgeon of the Union army. She wore men's clothing during her work, claiming it to be easier for high demands of her work.
In September 1862, Walker wrote to the War Department requesting employment as a spy, but her proposal was declined. In September 1863, she was employed as a "Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian)" by the Army of the Cumberland, becoming the first female surgeon employed by the U.S. Army Surgeon. Walker was later appointed assistant surgeon of the 52nd Ohio Infantry. During her service, she frequently crossed battle lines and treated civilians.
On April 10, 1864, she was captured by Confederate troops, and arrested as a spy, just after she finished helping a Confederate doctor perform an amputation. She was sent to Castle Thunder in Richmond, Virginia, and remained there until August 12, 1864, when she was released as part of a prisoner exchange. While she was imprisoned, she refused to wear the clothes provided her, said to be more "becoming of her sex". Walker was exchanged for a Confederate surgeon from Tennessee on August 12, 1864.
After the war, Walker was awarded a disability pension for partial muscular atrophy suffered while she was imprisoned by the enemy. She was given $8.50 a month, beginning June 13, 1865, but in 1899 that amount was raised to $20 per month.
She became a writer and lecturer, supporting such issues as health care, temperance, women's rights, and dress reform for women. She was frequently arrested for wearing men's clothing, and insisted on her right to wear clothing that she thought appropriate. She wrote two books that discussed women's rights and dress. She replied to criticism of her attire: "I don't wear men's clothes, I wear my own clothes."
Walker was a member of the central woman's suffrage Bureau in Washington, and solicited funds to endow a chair for a woman professor at Howard University medical school. She attempted to register to vote in 1871, but was turned away. The initial stance of the movement, following her lead, was to claim that women already had the right to vote, and Congress needed only to enact enabling legislation. After a number of fruitless years advocating this position, the movement promoted the adoption of a constitutional amendment. This was diametrically opposed to her position, and she fell out of favor with the movement. She continued to attend suffrage conventions and distribute her own literature, but was virtually ignored by the rest of the movement. Her penchant for wearing masculine clothing, including a top hat, only exacerbated the situation.[clarification needed] She received a more favorable reception in England than in the United States.
In 1907, Walker published "Crowning Constitutional Argument", in which she argued that some States, as well as the federal Constitution, had already granted women the right to vote. She testified on women's suffrage before committees of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1912 and 1914.
After a long illness, Walker died at home on February 21, 1919, at the age of eighty-six. She was buried at Rural Cemetery in Oswego, New York, in a plain funeral, with an American flag draped over her casket, and wearing a black suit instead of a dress. Her death in 1919 came one year before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote.
Honors and awards
Medal of Honor citation
After the war, Walker was recommended for the Medal of Honor by Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and George Henry Thomas. On November 11, 1865, President Andrew Johnson signed a bill to award her the medal.
In 1917, the U.S. Congress created a pension act for Medal of Honor recipients, and in doing so created separate Army and Navy Medal of Honor Rolls. Only the Army decided to review eligibility for inclusion on the Army Medal of Honor Roll. The 1917 Medal of Honor Board deleted 911 names from the Army Medal of Honor Roll, including those of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker and William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody. The disenrolled recipients were ordered to return their medals, but Walker continued to wear hers until her death.
Walker felt that she had been awarded the Medal of Honor because she had gone into enemy territory to care for the suffering inhabitants, when no man had the courage to do so, for fear of being imprisoned.
Attribution and citation
Rank and organization: Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian), U. S. Army. Places and dates: Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861; Patent Office Hospital, Washington, D.C., October 1861; Chattanooga, Tenn., following Battle of Chickamauga, September 1863; Prisoner of War, April 10, 1864 – August 12, 1864, Richmond, Va.; Battle of Atlanta, September 1864. Entered service at: Louisville, Ky. Born: 26 November 1832, Oswego County, N.Y.
Where as it appears from official reports that Dr. Mary E. Walker, a graduate of medicine, "has rendered valuable service to the Government, and her efforts have been earnest and untiring in a variety of ways," and that she was assigned to duty and served as an assistant surgeon in charge of female prisoners at Louisville, Ky., upon the recommendation of Major-Generals Sherman and Thomas, and faithfully served as contract surgeon in the service of the United States, and has devoted herself with much patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded soldiers, both in the field and hospitals, to the detriment of her own health, and has also endured hardships as a prisoner of war four months in a Southern prison while acting as contract surgeon; and Whereas by reason of her not being a commissioned officer in the military service, a brevet or honorary rank cannot, under existing laws, be conferred upon her; and Whereas in the opinion of the President an honorable recognition of her services and sufferings should be made.
It is ordered, That a testimonial thereof shall be hereby made and given to the said Dr. Mary E. Walker, and that the usual medal of honor for meritorious services be given her.
National Women's Hall of Fame
Walker was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2000.
The medical facilities at SUNY Oswego are named in her honor (Mary Walker Health Center). On the same grounds a plaque explains her importance in the Oswego community.
There is a United States Army Reserve center named for her in Walker, Michigan.
In May 2012, a 900-pound bronze statue honoring Walker was unveiled in front of the Oswego, New York Town Hall.
- Mary Edwards Walker; United States. Congress. House. Committee on the Judiciary, Edward Thomas Taylor, Jane Addams (1912). Woman suffrage, No.1: hearings before the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Sixty-second Congress, second session, statement of Dr. Mary E. Walker. February 14, 1912. Government Printing Office. Retrieved February 11, 2010.
- Walker, Mary Edwards (1871). Hit: Essays on Women's Rights. The American News Company. Retrieved February 11, 2010. Reissued in paperback with a new introduction in 2003.
- Mary Edwards Walker (1878). Unmasked, or the Science of Immorality, To Gentlemen by a Woman Physician and Surgeon.
Works about her
- DiMeo, Nate. Mary Walker Would Wear What She Wanted The Memory Palace Podcast Episode 76, October 19, 2015. (Podcast detailing Mary Walker, her early life and accomplishments.)
- Gall-Clayton, Nancy. I'm Wearing My Own Clothes! (Full-length play commissioned and produced by Looking for Lilith Theatre Company, July 2017. http://lookingforlilith.org/unheardoutloud/clothes/)
- Mollie Bean
- Mary Ann Bickerdyke
- Malinda Blalock
- Albert Cashier
- Sarah Emma Edmonds
- Sarah Taylor (soldier)
- Loreta Janeta Velazquez
- Laura J. Williams
- "The Case of Dr. Walker, Only Woman to Win (and Lose) the Medal of Honor". The New York Times. June 4, 1977. Retrieved January 6, 2018.
- Pennington, Reina (2003). Amazons to Fighter Pilots - A Biographical Dictionary of Military Women (Volume Two). Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 474–475. ISBN 0-313-32708-4.
- Spiegel, Allen; Suskind, Peter (June 1, 1996). "Mary Edwards Walker, M.D. A Feminist Physician a Century Ahead of Her Time". Journal of Community Health. 21: 211.
- Harris, Sharon M. (2009). Dr. Mary Walker: American Radical, 1832–1919. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-4611-7.
- Graf, 2010, p. 11
- Graf, 2010, p. 91
- Walker, 2010, pp. 26–27
- Leonard, Elizabeth D. (1994). Yankee Women: Gender battles in the Civil War. New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-31372-7.
- Mary Edwards Walker M.D. (Author) (2003-08-01). "Hit: Essays on Women's Rights (Classics in Women's Studies): Mary Edwards Walker M.D.: 9781591020981: Amazon.com: Books". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2014-04-22.
- Tsui, Bonnie (2006). She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War. Guilford: TwoDot. p. 120. ISBN 0762743840.
- Blanton, DeAnne, and Lauren M. Cook. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 2002, page 96.
- National Archives, RG108, E22, M1635, Mary E. Walker to Edwin M. Stanton, September 22, 1862
- Walker, Dale L. (2005). Mary Edwards Walker: Above and Beyond. American Heroes Series. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-7653-1065-1. Retrieved February 11, 2010.
- Massey, 1994, pp 62–63
- Spiegel, Allen; Suskind, Peter (1 June 1996). "Mary Edwards Walker, M.D: A Feminist Physician a Century Ahead of Her Time". Journal of Community Health. 21: 211.
- Massey, 1994, pp 360–361
- Lineberry, Cate (December 2, 2013). "'I Wear My Own Clothes'". The New York Times. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
- Massey, 1994, p 361
- "Dr. Mary Walker, Crusader, is Dead" (PDF). The New York Times. February 23, 1919. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
- Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 49247). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- "Mary Edwards Walker: The Only Woman to Receive the Medal of Honor". NBC News. Retrieved December 7, 2016.
- United Press International (June 11, 1977). "Highest Medal Restored to War Heroine". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-09.
Army Secretary Clifford Alexander today restored the Medal of Honor to Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon who had been the only woman to have won the medal.
- "About WWH". Our Namesakes. Whitman-Walker Health. Archived from the original on September 5, 2015. Retrieved October 21, 2015.
- Torreon, Barbara Salazar (August 18, 2015). Medal of Honor: History and Issues (PDF). Congressional Research Service. p. "Summary". Retrieved March 20, 2016.
- "Medal of Honor recipients". Medal of Honor citations. United States Army Center of Military History. June 11, 2007. Archived from the original on February 23, 2009. Retrieved February 11, 2010.
- "Liberty Ships built by the United States Maritime Commission in World War II". Retrieved 6 October 2014.
- Walker, 2010, pp. 21–22
- Graf, 2010, p 82
- Solano, Connie (2010). Courageous Women Thirty-two Short Stories. Tucson, Arizona: Wheatmark. p. 59. ISBN 9781604945041.
- "WACH - Dr Mary Walker Center". army.mil. Archived from the original on 2014-12-15.
- Mary E. Walker House Site http://www.pvmsec.org/index.php/services/homeless-veteran-services/the-mary-e-walker-house
- "Dinniman, Mary E. Walker House Recognize Women in the Military," Senator Dinneman's Official Website http://www.senatordinniman.com/dinniman-mary-e-walker-house-recognize-women-in-the-military
- Groom, Debra J. (May 9, 2012). "Statue to Dr. Mary Edwards Walker to be dedicated Saturday". The Post Standard. Advance Digital. syracuse.com. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
- Atwater, Edward C (2016). Women Medical Doctors in the United States before the Civil War: A Biographical Dictionary. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press. ISBN 9781580465717. OCLC 945359277.
- Bloch, Raphael S. Healers and Achievers: Physicians Who Excelled in Other Fields and the Times in Which They Lived. [Bloomington, IN]: Xlibris Corp, 2012. ISBN 1-4691-9247-0 OCLC 819323018[self-published source]
- Conner, Jane Hollenbeck. Sinners, Saints, and Soldiers in Civil War Stafford. Stafford, Va.: Parker Pub., 2009. ISBN 0-9708370-1-1 OCLC 430058519
- Eggleston, Larry G. Women in the Civil War: Extraordinary Stories of Soldiers, Spies, Nurses, Doctors, Crusaders, and Others. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0-7864-1493-6
- Fitzgerald, Stephanie. Mary Walker: Civil War Surgeon and Feminist. Minneapolis, Minn.: Compass Point Books, 2009. ISBN 0-7565-4083-6 OCLC 244293210
- Frank, Lisa Tendrich. Women in the American Civil War. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2008. ISBN 1-85109-600-0 OCLC 152580687
- Goldsmith, Bonnie Zucker. Dr. Mary Edwards Walker: Civil War Surgeon & Medal of Honor Recipient. Edina, Minn: ABDO Pub, 2010. ISBN 1-60453-966-6 OCLC 430736535
- Graf, Mercedes, and Mary Edwards Walker. A Woman of Honor: Dr. Mary E. Walker and the Civil War. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 2001. ISBN 1-57747-071-0 OCLC 48851708
- Hall, Richard C. Women on the Civil War Battlefront. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2006. ISBN 978-0-7006-1437-0
- Hall, Marjory. Quite Contrary: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1970. OCLC 69716
- Harper, Judith E. Women During the Civil War: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2004. ISBN 0-415-93723-X OCLC 51942662
- Joinson, Carla. Civil War Doctor: The Story of Mary Edwards Walker. Greensboro, N.C.: Morgan Reynolds Pub., 2006. ISBN 1-59935-028-9 OCLC 71241973
- LeClair, Mary K., Justin D. White, and Susan Keeter. Three 19th-Century Women Doctors: Elizabeth Blackwell, Mary Walker, Sarah Loguen Fraser. Syracuse, N.Y.: Hofmann, 2007. ISBN 0-9700519-3-X OCLC 156809843
- Massey, Mary Elizabeth. Women in the Civil War. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8032-8213-3
- Mendoza, Patrick M. Extraordinary People in Extraordinary Times: Heroes, Sheroes and Villains. Englewood, Colo: Libraries Unlimited, 1999. ISBN 1-56308-611-5 OCLC 632890705
- Mikaelian, Allen, and Mike Wallace. Medal of Honor: Profiles of America's Military Heroes from the Civil War to the Present. New York: Hyperion, 2002. ISBN 0-7868-6662-4 OCLC 49698595
- Nash, J. V. Famous Eccentric Americans. Girard, Kan: Haldeman-Julius Publications, 1930. OCLC 10836948
- Schroeder-Lein, Glenna R. The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, Inc, 2008. ISBN 0-7656-1171-6 OCLC 122291324
- Snyder, Charles McCool. Dr. Mary Walker: The Little Lady in Pants. New York: Arno Press, 1974. ISBN 0-405-06122-6 OCLC 914744
- Tsui, Bonnie. She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War. Guilford, Connecticut: TwoDot, 2006. ISBN 0-7627-4384-0
- United States, Mary Edwards Walker, Edward T. Taylor, and Jane Addams. Woman Suffrage, No. 1: Hearings Before the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Sixty-Second Congress, Second Session, Statement of Dr. Mary E. Walker. February 14, 1912. Washington: Govt. Print. Off, 1912. OCLC 2766859
- Walker, Dale L. Mary Edwards Walker: Above and Beyond. New York: Forge, 2005. ISBN 0-7653-1065-1 OCLC 57349050
- Walker, Mary Edwards. Hit: Essays on Women's Rights. Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2003. ISBN 1-59102-098-0 OCLC 52165894
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mary Edwards Walker.|
- "Mary Edward Walker". Retrieved October 4, 2010.
- "Mary Edwards Walker". Hall of Valor. Military Times. Retrieved February 11, 2010.
- "National Library of Medicine, Dr Mary Edwards Walker Biography". Retrieved February 26, 2010.
- "Mary Edwards Walker". Archived from the original on March 17, 2010. Retrieved February 26, 2010.
- "Town of Oswego Historical Society". Retrieved February 26, 2010.
- "St. Lawrence County, New York Branch of the American Association of University Women". Archived from the original on May 1, 2010. Retrieved February 26, 2010.
- Mary Edwards Walker at Find a Grave
- Works by Mary Edwards Walker at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)