Mary Edwards Walker, Doctor and Medal of Honor Recipient

“Let the generations know that women in uniform also guaranteed their freedom.” – Dr. Mary Edwards Walker 

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, sitting on a wooden chair, right leg crossed over left, dressed in a suit and wearing her Medal of Honor.
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

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, Mary 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.

As she entered her early adult years, Mary became a teacher. But her interest shifted over time into medicine, desiring to become a doctor. She used funds saved from work as a teacher 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 in the war, “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.

Notes:

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Sources:

  • C.M. Bell, photographer. Walker, Dr. Mary. [Between 1873 and] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2016713273/>