Mary Edwards Walker : biography
Mary Edwards Walker (November 26, 1832 – February 21, 1919) was an American feminist, abolitionist, prohibitionist, alleged spy, prisoner of war and surgeon. She is currently the only woman ever to receive the Medal of Honor.
Prior to the American Civil War she earned her medical degree, married and started a medical practice. The practice didn't do well and she volunteered with the Union Army at the outbreak of the American Civil War and served as a surgeon. 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 Her medal was later rescinded based on a U.S. Army determination and then restored in 1977. After the war she was a writer and lecturer supporting the women's suffrage movement until her death in 1919.
During World War II, a Liberty ship, the SS Mary Walker, was named for her.
In 1982, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 20 cent stamp in her honor.Walker, 2010, pp. 21-22
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.
The Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C. is named in honor of Dr. Walker and the poet Walt Whitman who was a nurse in D.C. during the Civil War.
The Mary Walker Clinic at the National Training Center and Fort Irwin, California is named in honor of Dr. Walker.
The Mary E. Walker House is a thirty (30) bed transitional residence ran by The Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service & Education Center for women veterans who have found themselves in difficult life situations and without a home.
At the beginning of the American Civil War, she volunteered for the Union Army as a civilian. At first, she was only allowed to practice as a nurse, as the U.S. Army had no female surgeons. 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 the Battle of Fredericksburg and in Chattanooga after the Battle of Chickamauga. In September 1862 Walker wrote to the War Department requesting employment on Secret Service to spy on the enemy, but the offer was declined.National Archives, RG108, E22, M1635, Mary E. Walker to Edwin M. Stanton, September 22, 1862 Finally, she employed as a "Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian)" by the Army of the Cumberland in September 1863, becoming the first-ever female surgeon employed by the U.S. Army Surgeon.
Walker was later appointed assistant surgeon of the 52nd Ohio Infantry. During this service, she frequently crossed battle lines, treating 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 Richmond, Virginia and remained there until August 12, 1864 when she was released as part of a prisoner exchange. She went on to serve during the Battle of Atlanta and later as supervisor of a female prison in Louisville, Kentucky, and head of an orphanage in Tennessee.
After the war, she became a writer and lecturer, supporting such issues as health care, temperance, women's rights and dress reform for women. She wrote two books that discussed women's rights and dress. She participated for several years with other leaders in the women's suffrage movement, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The initial stance of the movement, taking Dr. Walker's lead, was to say that women already had the right to vote, and Congress need only enact enabling legislation. After a number of fruitless years working at this, the movement took the new tack of working for a Constitutional amendment. This was diametrically opposed to Mary Walker's position, and she fell out of favor with the movement. She continued to attend conventions of the suffrage movement and distribute her own brand of literature, but was virtually ignored by the rest of the movement. Her penchant for wearing male-style clothing, including a top hat, only exacerbated the situation.
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