Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (November 26, 1832 – February 21, 1919) was an American feminist, abolitionist, prohibitionist, alleged spy, prisoner of war, surgeon, and the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor.
Mary Walker was born in 1832 in Oswego, New York, the daughter of Alvah and Vesta Walker. She was the youngest of five daughters and had one younger brother. Walker worked on her family farm as a kid. She did not wear women's clothing during farm labor, because they were too restricting. Her elementary education consisted of going to the local school where her mother taught. When she became a young woman, she began to teach at the school to earn enough money to pay her way through Syracuse Medical College where she graduated as a doctor in 1855 as the only woman in her class. She married a fellow medical school student, Albert Miller, and they set up a joint practice in Rome, New York. The practice did not flourish, as female doctors were generally not trusted or respected at that time.
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 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 also worked as an unpaid field surgeon near the Union front lines, including the Battle of Fredericksburg and in Chattanooga after the Battle of Chickamauga. Finally, she was awarded a commission as a "Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian)" by the Army of the Cumberland in September 1863, becoming the first ever female 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. She was sent to Richmond 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, 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 present the medal to her, specifically for her services at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas).
In 1917, the U.S. Congress, after revising the standards for award of the medal so that it could only be given to those who had been involved in "actual combat with an enemy", revoked more than 900 previously-awarded medals, including that of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker and William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Although ordered to return the medal, she refused to do so and continued to wear it until her death.
President Jimmy Carter restored her medal posthumously in 1977.
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 Chickomauga, 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.
Whereas 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.
After the war, Dr. Walker became a writer and lecturer, supporting such issues as health care, temperance, women's rights and dress reform for women. She wore men's clothes exclusively for the rest of her life.
Source: Mary Edwards Walker - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Edwards_Walker)
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