WoW Blog (Woman of the Week) Blog

WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

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Woman of the Week – Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919)

Posted January 19, 2012 12:00 AM by SavvyExacta

Mary Edwards Walker, MD was the second woman to graduate from an American medical school. She was the first and only woman to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for her duties during the Civil War.

Originally from a town near Oswego, NY, Walker graduated from Syracuse Medical College in 1855. She practiced medicine with her husband Albert Miller until 1869. Their partnership dissolved when they divorced.

Walker volunteered with the Union Army when the Civil War broke out. Although she intended to be an army surgeon she had to settle for a volunteer position in the Patent Office Hospital. During this time she helped found the Women's Relief Association to help the wives and mothers of soldiers who were staying on Washington park benches. She began assisting at tent hospitals in Virginia in the fall of 1862.

Walker was considered a nurse but performed the duties of an assistant surgeon. In September 1862 she won an appointment as an assistant surgeon from Gen. George H. Thomas in Tennessee. Walker was not paid for her work until she was commissioned as acting assistant surgeon in 1864. She received a salary of $100 per month until being discharged from the Army in 1865. Her pension was less than that of some of the soldiers' widows.

In addition to being an assistant surgeon Walker also acted as a spy. She often treated civilians on both sides following battle, reporting on what she saw when she returned to her duties with the Army. Walker dressed in either an officer's uniform or in men's civilian clothing. In April 1864 she was captured by the Confederate Army for spying. She was held as a prisoner of war at Castle Thunder until her release in August 1864 when she was exchanged for a Confederate officer.

Walker received the Congressional Medal of Honor for Meritorious Service. (The Medal was taken away in 1917 when the qualifying criteria were changed. It was reinstated in 1977 because of a relative's persistence.)

Throughout the course of her life Walker was also a suffragist. She advocated women's dress reform and the right to vote. Walker did not practice medicine after her time in the Civil War.

Resources:

American Civil War - Mary Edwards Walker 1832-1919

International Wellness Directory: Mary Edwards Walker, MD

Oswego Library - Mary Edwards Walker, M.D.: A Bibliography

Syracuse University Library - Mary Edwards Walker Papers

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1e/Mary_edwards_walker.jpg [image]

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