Mary Edwards Walker
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker of the Civil War Union Army was the first American woman to be a military doctor, a prisoner of war and a Medal of Honor recipient. She was also a Union spy and a crusader against tobacco and alcohol.
The U.S. Postal Service honored Civil War Dr. Mary E. Walker, the only woman awarded the Medal of Honor, with a 20- cent first-class postage stamp in 1982.
She was born on Nov. 26, 1832, in Oswego County, N.Y., and graduated from Syracuse Medical College in 1855. She married fellow medical student Albert Miller, but declined to take his name. The couple set up a medical practice in Rome, N.Y., but the public wasn't ready to accept a woman physician. The practice and the marriage foundered.
When the Civil War started, the Union Army wouldn't hire women doctors, so Walker volunteered as a nurse in Washington's Patent Office Hospital and treated wounded soldiers at the Battle of Bull Run in Virginia. In 1862, she received an Army contract appointing her as an assistant surgeon with the 52nd Ohio Infantry.
The first woman doctor to serve with the Army Medical Corps, Walker cared for sick and wounded troops in Tennessee at Chickamauga and in Georgia during the Battle of Atlanta.
Confederate troops captured her on April 10, 1864, and held her until the sides exchanged prisoners of war on Aug. 12, 1864. Walker worked the final months of the war at a women's prison in Louisville, Ky., and later at an orphans' asylum in Tennessee.
The Army nominated Walker for the Medal of Honor for her wartime service. President Andrew Johnson signed the citation on Nov. 11, 1865, and she received the award on Jan. 24, 1866. Her citation cites her wartime service, but not specifically valor in combat.
"A photograph and the walking cane of Dr. Mary E. Walker, the only woman awarded the Medal of Honor, is featured in "Serving with the Military: 18th and 19th centuries," an exhibit at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery. Rudi Williams The Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery features the story of Dr. Mary E. Walker, the only woman awarded the Medal of Honor, along with a picture of her decked out in men's clothing and her walking cane. Rudi Williams Ann Walker, 74, the great grandniece of Civil War Dr. Mary E. Walker, the nation's only women Medal of Honor recipient, poses by Dr. Walker's photograph and walking cane on display at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at the entrance to Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery."
the text selection and photos above are from Only Woman Medal of Honor Holder Ahead of Her Time by Rudi Williams, American Forces Press Service, April 30, 1999.
revised 4/1/06 | Civil War