Mary Walker was born in Oswego, New York on November 26, 1832. Mary had an unconventional upbringing. Her parents were abolitionists and farmers who encouraged Mary and her sister to do what was considered to be men’s work. Mary stuck out in the community and was ridiculed for her unconventional ways, including wearing pants.
Determined to make a difference in the world, Mary went on to earn a degree from Syracuse Medical University in 1855. After the Civil War began, Mary volunteered as a nurse for the Union army. Despite her qualifications she, like many other females, were seen as unfit to be Doctors. Still, Mary worked on the battlefields and treated patients in tent hospitals. In 1863, she was promoted to Assistant Surgeon of the Ohio 52nd Infantry.
Mary is also thought to have been a spy for the Union army, seeking secrets from the Confederate troops. She was captured by Confederate soldiers in 1864 and spent 4 months as a prisoner of war. She was released as part of a prisoner exchange. Upon her release, Mary was named the medical director of a hospital for women prisoners. She worked there and at an orphanage until she retired in 1865.
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker received the United States Military Medal of Honor in 1865 for her services during the Civil War. In 1916, this medal was revoked from her and nearly one thousand others. However, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter posthumously restored the honor. As of 2017, Mary Walker is still the only woman to have received the Medal of Honor.
After her career in the military, Mary Walker was still an outspoken activist, author, and lecturer. She was an advocate for women’s rights and fought for women’s suffrage. Although it was still frowned upon, Mary Walker continued to dress in men’s clothes and supported dress reform for women. She passed away on February 21, 1919 in Oswego, New York after a lifetime of activism and refusing to conform to society’s standards.
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker was a woman ahead of her time. While women of the time typically did not work, Dr. Mary Edwards proved that women could and should do work that is equal to that of a man. Her work ethic, advocacy, and determination make her stand out amongst many other women throughout history as someone who is inspiring to many.
Arkin, Daniel. “Mary Edwards Walker: The Only Woman to Receive the Medal of Honor.” NBCNews, 21 May 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/military/mary-edwards-walker-only-woman-receive-medal-honor-n111596
Biography.com editors. “Mary Walker.” The Biography.com Website, A&E Television Networks , 31 July 2014, http://www.biography.com/people/mary-walker-9522110
Williams, Glenn. “Dr. Mary Edwards Walker 26 November 1832 – 21 February 1919.” Center for Military History, 21 Feb. 2016, http://www.history.army.mil/news/2016/160200a_maryEdwardsWalker.html.