Dr. Mary E. Walker

Civil War Surgeon

Mary Walker on a stamp
Mary Walker stamp. MPI/Getty Images

About Dr. Mary E. Walker

Known for: among the earliest woman physicians; first woman to win the Medal of Honor; Civil War service including commission as an army surgeon; dressing in men's clothing

Dates: November 26, 1832 - February 21, 1919

Profession: Physician

Also known as: Dr. Mary Walker, Dr. Mary E. Walker, Mary E. Walker, Mary Edwards Walker

More About Dr. Mary E. Walker

Mary Edwards Walker was an unconventional woman.

She was a proponent of women's rights and dress reform -- especially the wearing of "Bloomers" which didn't enjoy wide currency until the sport of bicycling became popular. In 1855 became one of the earliest female physicians upon graduation from Syracuse Medical College. She married Albert Miller, a fellow student, in a ceremony that did not include a promise to obey; she did not take his name, and to her wedding wore trousers and a dress-coat. Neither the marriage nor their joint medical practice lasted long.

At the start of the Civil War, Dr. Mary E. Walker volunteered with the Union Army and adopted men's clothing. She was at first not allowed to work as a physician, but as a nurse and as a spy. She finally won a commission as an army surgeon in the Army of the Cumberland, 1862. While treating civilians, she was taken prisoner by the Confederates and was imprisoned for four months until she was released in a prisoner exchange.

Her official service record reads:

Dr. Mary E. Walker (1832 - 1919) Rank and organization: Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian), U. S. Army. Places and dates: Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861 Patent Office Hospital, Washington, D.C., October 1861 Following Battle of Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Tennessee September 1863 Prisoner of War, Richmond, Virginia, April 10, 1864 - August 12, 1864 Battle of Atlanta, September 1864. Entered service at: Louisville, Kentucky Born: 26 November 1832, Oswego County, N.Y.

After the Civil War, she became a writer and lecturer, usually appearing dressed in a man's suit and top hat.

Dr. Mary E. Walker was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for her Civil War service, in an order signed by President Andrew Johnson on November 11, 1865. When, in 1917, the government revoked 900 such medals, and asked for Walker's medal back, she refused to return it and wore it until her death two years later. In 1977 President Jimmy Carter restored her medal posthumously, making her the first woman to hold a Congressional Medal of Honor.

About Mary Edwards Walker

Also on this site

Print Bibliography

  • Synder, Charles McCool. Dr. Mary Walker: The Little Lady in Pants. 1974. (compare prices)

Dr. Mary E. Walker on the Web

More About Mary Walker:

Categories: female physician, Civil War spy, nurse, cross dresser, Medal of Honor winner, dress reform, Bloomers
Organizational Affiliations: Union Army
Places: New York, United States
Period: 19th century

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