Mary Edwards Walker

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Written by Elizabeth Pardhe

Born on November 26, 1832, in Oswego, New York, to abolitionist parents, Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor, was the first female physician in the United States Army. She applied to join the Union Army as a medical officer, but she chose to serve as a surgeon when her application was refused. In April 1864, Mary was seized by the Confederate Army while on duty and kept as a prisoner for a few months at Castle Thunder Prison outside Richmond, Virginia. However, by the end of October, Mary had been discharged and assigned to be an assistant surgeon.

After the war, Mary was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Andrew Johnson in 1865 due to her patriotic dedication and willingness to serve the wounded troops at the cost of her health, both in the field and in hospitals hardships as a prisoner of war. She was also a strong advocate for women’s rights and supported dress reform throughout her life. Mary wore pants, which at the time was scandalous to some, tried to vote before it was legally allowed, and participated in politics. Despite all this, when it was decided in 1916 that only those who had been in combat would be eligible for the medal of honor, Congress tried to take Walker’s medal away in 1917. Although Mary refused to give up her medal and wore it until her death in 1919 at the age of 86, President Jimmy Carter legally restored the Medal of Honor to her name.

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