Physician, (1832 - 1919)

She was a physician in the Civil War. The Congressional Medal of Honor was given to her in 1865 and then rescinded in 1917, possibly in her case because she became a suffragette but at the same time some 1000 Medals of Honor were rescinded in an effort to "increase the prestige of the grant." She refused to actually return the medal and wore it all her life.

In 1977 the U.S. Congress reinstated the medal (posthumously, of course). She is the only woman from the Civil War (and still possibly the only woman) to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Her name appears on a plaque in the Pentagon.

Her commendation for the medal reads

Whereas it appears from official reports that Dr. Mary E. Walker, a graduate of medicine, "has rendered valuable service to the government, and her efforts have been earnest and untiring in a variety of ways," and that she was assigned to duty and served as an assistant surgeon in charge of female prisoners at Louisville, KY., under the recommendation of Major-Generals Sherman and Thomas, and faithfully served as contract surgeon in the service of the United states, and has devoted herself with much patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded soldiers, both in the field and hospitals, to the detriment of her own health, and has endured hardships as a prisoner of war four months in a southern prison while acting as contract surgeon; and

Whereas by reason of her not being a commissioned officer in the military service a brevet or honorary rank can not, under existing laws, be conferred upon her; and

Whereas in the opinion of the President an honorable recognition of her services and suffers should be made;

It is Ordered. That a testimonial thereof shall be hereby made and given to the said Dr. Mary E. Walker, and that the usual medal of honor for meritorious services be given her.

Given under my hand in the city of Washington, D. C. this 11th day of November, A.D. 1865.

  • Andrew Johnson, President

  • By the President:
  • Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War

    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.

    A biography on her can be found in "Dr. Mary Walker - The Little Lady in Pants" by Charles M. Snyder, 1974, New York: Arno Press.

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