Dr. Mary Edwards Walker - Surgeon, Spy, Suffragette

Prisoner of War, Proponent of Style and Congressional Medal of Honor Winner

Dr Walker

Dr. Mary E. Walker, M.D., a Civil War physician, was awarded the Congressional** Medal of Honor in 1865. Dr. Walker's Medal of Honor was rescinded in 1917, along with some 900 others. Some believed her medal was rescinded because of her involvement as a suffragette. Others discredit that opinion as 909 other medals rescinded were awarded to men. The stated reason was to ". . . increase the prestige of the grant."

For whatever reason she refused to return the Medal of Honor and wore it until her death in 1919. Fifty-eight years later, the U.S. Congress posthumously reinstated her medal, and it was restored by President Carter on June 10, 1977.

She is the only woman of the Civil War, or any war, to have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

Medal of honor

Citation for the Congressional Medal of Honor:

full length Walker

Even in uniform Dr Mary Walker was controversial - she added trousers under her skirt, wore a man's uniform jacket and carried two pistols at all times. Her military career was not actually military in that she was never commissioned. She was refused a commission as an army surgeon, but served on a volunteer basis at a Washington D.C. hospital. She worked as a field surgeon near the Union front lines for almost two years (including Fredericksburg and in Chattanooga after the Battle of Chickamauga), then was appointed assistant surgeon of the 52nd Ohio Infantry. After spending four months in a Richmond prison, she was released back to the 52nd Ohio as a contract surgeon, but spent the rest of the war practicing at a Louisville female prison and an orphan's asylum in Tennessee. During her stay with the 52nd Ohio it is implied that she also served as a spy while wandering out in to the civilian community to treat the sick and starving. Her official "service record" reads as follows:

Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, wrote of Dr. Walker:
"She lived a life of determined unconventionality; being a bloomerite from her younger years, she preferred to dress in pants. Later on in life, still practicing medicine, she could be seen wearing men's top hats and top coats as well as pants."


Dr Mary Walker was a bright and determined female patriot who was way ahead of her time. She fought to save lives, fought to gain approval, and met with resistance not unlike that being heaped upon women in the military today. The war left her scarred both physically and emotionally - but she continued to strive for women's rights for many years. And sadly she died alone, and almost penniless, at the age of eighty seven - and was not remembered for her service to her country as much as she was remembered for being "that shocking female surgeon in trousers!"

top hat

**In the 1860s it was called the Congressional Medal of Honor. Today the correct term is "The Medal of Honor".

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