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Mary Edwards Walker
Born November 26, 1832
Oswego, New York (1832-11-26)
Died February 21, 1919 (aged 86)
Nationality American
Occupation Surgeon
Employer United States Army
Known for Receiving the Medal of Honor
American Civil War
1st Female U.S. Army Surgeon
Abolitionist during the 
Spouse(s) Albert Miller

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Dr. Mary Edwards Walker wearing
her Medal of Honor
Mary Edwards Walker  was an American feminist, abolitionist, prohibitionist, alleged spy,   prisoner of warsurgeon,  and the only woman to receive the  Medal of Honor
Early life and education

Mary Walker was born in the Town of Oswego, New York, in 1832, the daughter of Alvah (father) and Vesta (mother) Walker. She was the youngest of five daughters and had one younger brother. Walker worked on her family farm as a child. She did not wear women's clothing during farm labor, because she considered them too restricting. Her elementary education consisted of going to the local school where her mother taught. As a young woman, she taught at the school to earn enough money to pay her way through Syracuse Medical College, where she graduated as a medical 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 physicians 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  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. (Manassas), 

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.

Walker, ca 1870.
She often wore men's clothes and was arrested several times for impersonating a man.
Late career

After the war, she became a writer and lecturer, supporting such issues as health caretemperance, women's rights and dress reform for women. She wrote two books that discussed women's rights and dress. She participated for several years with other leaders in the Women's Suffrage Movement, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

The initial stance of the movement, taking Dr. Walker's lead, was to say that women already had the right to vote, and Congress need only enact enabling legislation. After a number of fruitless years working at this, the movement took the new tack of working for a Constitutional amendment. This was diametrically opposed to Mary Walker's position, and she fell out of favor with the movement.

She continued to attend conventions of the suffrage movement and distribute her own brand of literature, but was virtually ignored by the rest of the movement. Her penchant for wearing male-style clothing, including a top hat, only exacerbated the situation.

Her death in 1919 came one year before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which guaranteed women the right to vote.

Medal of Honor 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 her the medal, 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.


In World War II, a Liberty ship, the SS Mary Walker, was named for her.

In 1982, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 20 cent stamp in her honor.

The medical facilities at SUNY Oswego are named in her honor. On the same grounds a plaque explains her importance in the Oswego community.

There is a United States Army Reserve center named for her in Walker, Michigan.

The Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C. is named in honor of Dr. Walker and the poet Walt Whitman who was a nurse in D.C. during the Civil War.

See also
American Civil War portal
  • List of Medal of Honor recipients
  • Civil War Medal of Honor recipients: M-Z
  • Sarah Taylor (soldier)
  • Malinda Blalock
  • Albert Cashier
  • Sarah Emma Edmundson
  • Loreta Janeta Velazquez
  • Laura J. Williams
  • Mollie Bean

  • References
  • Mary Edwards Walker at  Find A Grave
  • National Library of Medicine, Dr Mary Edwards Walker Biography
  • Mary Edwards Walker
  • Town of Oswego Historical Society
  • St. Lawrence County, NY Branch of the American Association of University Women
  • Women in Military Service for America Memorial
  • Mary Edwards Walker is mentioned in these search topics:
  • Mary Edwards Walker
  • Equal Rights Party (United States)
  • Dale L. Walker
  • Sarah Emma Edmonds
  • Walker (surname)
  • Courage Under Fire
  • Timeline of women in 19th century warfare
  • Chatham Manor
  • Medal of Honor
  • November 26
  • List of people on stamps of the United States
  • Whitman-Walker Clinic
  • History of brassieres
  • Upstate New York

  • Web results from the major search engines
  • Mary Edwards Walker Papers   Inventory of her papers   Syracuse University
  • Mary Edwards Walker (American physician and reformer)
  • Mary Edwards Walker Biography
  • WALKER, Mary Edwards
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  • Mary Edwards Walker 1832 - 1919
  • Mary Edwards Walker
  • Walker, Mary Edwards
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  • Mary Edwards Walker      Wikipedia
  • Women in the Civil War - Dr. Mary Edwards Walker
  • Dr. Mary Edwards Walker: first woman U.S. Army Surgeon
  • Mary Edwards Walker: Biography
  • Mary Edwards Walker, Civil War Doctor
  • Mary Edwards Walker
  • Mary Edwards Walker
  • Walker, Mary Edwards    Free Online Encyclopedia.
  • Medal of Honor Winner: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker
  • Mary Edwards Walker: Above and Beyond
  • Changing the Face of Medicine     Dr. Mary Edwards Walker
  • Mary Edwards Walker Doctor American Civil War Women
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