She wore pants. She went to medical school. She treated soldiers for the Confederate Army when she was a surgeon in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. Throughout her life, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker questioned norms and stood by her beliefs, even though often criticized and at times arrested for some of these decisions.
Born in Oswego, New York, in 1832, she was well educated from an early age. Her parents opened a school where Mary and her sisters could receive the same quality education as their brother. It was also the first free school in their town.
Mary became a teacher. She then used funds saved from work to pay for medical school, graduating from Syracuse Medical College in 1855, the only woman in her class. A few years later, during the Civil War, Mary tried to join the Union Army as a surgeon. Rejected because of her gender, she volunteered to serve as an unpaid civilian. Finally, in 1863, her application to practice as a surgeon was accepted. Thus, she became the first female Army surgeon.
For her work in the war, Mary received the Medal of Honor. She would remark about her time, “Let the generations know that women in uniform also guaranteed their freedom.” After the war, Mary continued to fight for women’s rights. And to date, she is the only female Medal of Honor recipient in U.S. history.
Sources: Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Mary Edwards Walker.” National Women’s History Museum, 2019. Accessed May 11th, 2021. / “Dr. Mary Edwards Walker.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. Accessed May 11th, 2021. / “Dr. Mary Edwards Walker: War surgeon, suffragette, and pioneer in women’s rights.” Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons. Accessed May 11th, 2021. / C.M. Bell, photographer. Walker, Dr. Mary. [Between 1873 and] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2016713273/>
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