Mary Edwards Walker is the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor which is the United States highest military award. (3,458 men have received it).
Mary Edwards Walker was born in Oswego, New York state on November 26, 1832 and died in 1919. When the American Civil War broke out (1861), Mary was a doctor, but army restrictions forced her to work as a nurse. Two years later she was employed as a civilian Acting Assistant Surgeon and later that year became the first-ever female surgeon employed by the US Army.
Arrested as a Spy
Mary frequently crossed battle lines treating civilians. During one crossing she helped a Confederate (southern army) surgeon perform an amputation. When she had finished, she was arrested by the Confederate army as a spy .She was later released during a prisoner exchange.
Bi-Sexual or Lesbian?
Mary had been married for a short time, but left her husband to volunteer during the Civil War. She never returned to him and some writers suggest that her lover was Belva Ann Lockwood.
After the war, Mary wrote two books that advocated women’s rights particularly in the area of a choice of clothing. Mary choose to wear men’s clothing including a top hat and she was arrested several times for impersonating a man. She certainly was a transvestite for her era.
Mary also lectured on a number of female topics which included health care, temperance, women’s rights and dress reform.
She participated for several years with other leaders in the women’s suffrage movement, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The initial stance of the movement, taking Dr. Walker’s lead, was to say that women already had the right to vote, and Congress need only enact enabling legislation. After a number of fruitless years working at this, the movement took the new tack of working for a Constitutional amendment. This was diametrically opposed to Mary Walker’s position, and she fell out of favor with the movement. She continued to attend conventions of the suffrage movement and distribute her own brand of literature, but was virtually ignored by the rest of the movement
Walker was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.