|Dr. Mary Walker
Since Gettysburg just hosted the National Medal of Honor convention last week, I thought it would be interesting to do a post on one recipient who is not very well known.
Her name is Mary Edwards Walker, and she was born in 1832 in Oswego, N.Y. Prior to the American Civil War, Walker earned her medical degree from Syracuse Medical College, married and started a medical practice.
When the Civil War broke out, she initially served as a nurse, but in September 1863 — over the strong objections of male doctors — Walker was appointed assistant surgeon of the Fifty-Second Ohio Infantry Regiment. She was the first woman to be appointed to such a position.
Walker did not hesitate to care for the wounded of both sides. She was actually captured by Confederate forces on April 10, 1864, after stopping to treat a wounded Confederate soldier, and spent four months in a Confederate prison camp before being exchanged.
After the war, Walker wrote and lectured on behalf of temperance, women’s rights, health care, and dress reform. She often wore men’s clothing and was arrested several times for impersonating a man.
Shortly after the end of the war, Walker became the first woman to be awarded the Medal of Honor, but in 1919, the Board of Medals revoked her award and the awards of 910 other individuals. The eighty-seven-year old physician said, “You can have it over my dead body.” (The medals did not have to be returned; the 911 names were simply deleted from the official list of recipients.)
She died six days later, a year before the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed women the right to vote. She was buried in her black suit rather than a dress.
The Medal was restored posthumously in 1977.