On this day in 1832, the great feminist Mary Edwards Walker was born. It is wrong to call her simply a feminist. She was many things, including a surgeon. She worked for the Union Army during the Civil War. In fact, while treating Confederate soldiers across enemy lines, she was captured by the traitors and accused of spying. She was later released in a prisoner exchange. After the war, she was given the Medal of Honor — the only woman to ever be given one.
There is a strange story about it, though. In 1917, Congress passed a law giving pensions to Medal of Honor recipients. The Army took the opportunity to re-evaluate the recipients (the Navy did not). They decided to knock 911 names off the list — one of which was Walker’s. She still wore the medal for her two remaining years of life. But you just have to wonder what the army thought it was doing removing those names. Regardless, Walker’s medal was restored by President Carter in 1977.
Walker was prominent in the women’s suffrage movement. She pushed the idea that woman already had the right to vote and there was no need to alter the Constitution. When this approach did not work, the movement transitioned to calling for a Constitutional amendment. But Walker never changed. This marginalized her in the movement. She was further marginalized by her opinions about dress. She felt that women should be allowed to dress as men if they thought it proper. She normally wore men’s clothing, including a trademark top hat.
Happy birthday Mary Edwards Walker!