Sunday, November 11, 2012

The First Union Army Lady Doctor

Doctor Mary Edwards Walker a Union Army surgeon was awarded the Medal of Honor November 11th 1865 under the recommendation of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Mary Edwards Walker was born November 26th 1832 in Oswego, New York the daughter of Alvah and Vesta Walker.  She worked on the family farm and took to wearing men’s clothing while working.  She was educated in the local school her mother taught.  After earning her own money to pay for it, Walker attended the Syracuse Medical College, graduating with a medical degree in 1855.  She married Albert Miller a fellow student and the two of them opened a practice in Rome, New York.

When the Civil War started Walker volunteered her service to the Union Army.  At first she was only allowed to operate as a nurse, as the Army didn’t have any other female surgeons.  She was at the First Battle of Bull Run.  Walker worked unpaid as a field surgeon on the front line at the battles of Fredericksburg and Chickamauga.  She was finally made a “Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian)" for the Union Army of the Cumberland in September 1863.  This made Walker the first female Union army surgeon.  She was captured April 10th 1864, behind the lines helping a Confederate doctor with an amputation and was sent to prison in Richmond, Virginia until exchanged.  President Andrew Johnson had her awarded the Medal of Honor after she was recommended by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman and George Henry Thomas on November 11th 1865.

Following the war Walker went on to write and lecturer about health care, temperance, and women’s rights.  She died February 21st 1919.  At her funeral there was an American flag draped over her coffin.  She is buried in the Rural Cemetery in Oswego, New York.

In 1917 the United State Congress removed Walker’s name along with 910 other Medal of Honor recipients from the Roll of Honor.  None of the 911 was asked to return their medal and Walker wore her until her death.

If you’re interested in reading more Dr Mary E Walker  is a good web site to start with.

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