Mary Edwards Walker
Written by Peter Fitzgerald
History of War - Spies
Mary Edwards Walker is someone who we still don’t know the full truth about, yet her exploits gained her the United States Medal of Honor, the only woman to have ever been bestowed this great accolade.
Adding to the Medal of Honor, Mary Edwards Walker is also the very first Female U.S. Army Surgeon too; this makes Mary Walker someone who has broken new ground. All this was achieved by Mary Walker during the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865.
Early Life of Mary Edwards Walker
Mary Edwards Walker was born in New York on the 26th of November in the year 1832. Walker was born into a farming family and her younger years comprised of working on the family farm and getting an education at the local school.
Once old enough Mary started teaching herself, but this was a means to an end as the money paid was used to pay for her to become a medical doctor. Mary left the teaching profession and in 1855 graduated from the Syracuse Medical College.
Mary Edwards Walker and the American Civil War
Upon the break out of the Civil War Mary Walker applied to join the Union Army, the army however would only allow her to sign up as a female nurse which Mary agreed too. Initially Walker worked as a nurse in the field and supported injured soldiers in battle before moving to a hospital in Washington.
After this Mary moved to become an unpaid surgeon behind the front lines carrying out life savings medical work, this work didn’t go unnoticed however as the Union army eventually commissioned Mary as a surgeon. This commission came in 1863 from the Army of the Cumberland and carried the title of "Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian)"; this made Mary Edwards Walker the very first Female U.S. Army Surgeon.
Mary really proved her strengths in the medical profession and she was soon to become an assistant surgeon to the larger 52nd Ohio Infantry. Here Mary proved herself fearless but not only giving medical aid to troops but also crossing the battle lines to support civilians caught in the fighting.
Walker’s bravery finally caught up with her in April 1864 when the Confederates caught her behind their own lines and arrested her on spying charges. Upon arrest Walker was sent back to Richmond as a prisoner where she was kept until August 1864. It was at this time that a prisoner swap occurred and Walker was released.
Walker didn’t stop her career in the Union forces because of being captured, in fact she went straight back to the battle lines and carried on her work.
After the American Civil War
After the Civil War Mary became the supervisor of a prison for women and ran a children’s orphanage for a while. After this Mary became a writer in the fields of health care and feminism.
Mary Edwards Walker had a very interesting and eventful life and lived to the ripe age of 86 before passing away of natural causes in the city of New York where she was born.