Mary Edwards Walker, Civil War Doctor

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First female US Army surgeon, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker.

She began as a nurse on the battlefield of the Civil War but became a (civilian) battlefield surgeon during the war. (She graduated as a medical doctor in 1855 but women weren't accepted for battlefield service - she changed that.) She was awarded the Medal of Honor for her service (the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor).

After the War, she was a supporter of such issues as health care, temperance, women's rights and dress reform for women. (Look at the photo!)
in USA


Sandra Limpert Today we might wonder if this woman was transgender (in this case a man born into a woman's body). She sure looks like she would have preferred being born a man. I can understand preferring pants over dresses, but a top hat and men's clothes? She would have at least been considered a "cross dresser" by her peers. I wonder what her contemporaries thought.
Nov 25, 2011 · Reply
Kathy Pinna My point of view is this, Sandra, for what it's worth: She was a woman at a time when women weren't taken seriously and didn't have the options we have today. In order to achieve what she did, she had to "de-sex" herself. Dressing like a man made others look at her for what she did, not how she dressed. Look at how difficult it is now for women to command respect, over 150 years later. She dressed as a man so that she would be seen for what she did, not for how she looked.
Nov 25, 2011 · Reply
Eve-Marie Hughes Sandra, I see jewelry and a comfortable hairstyle at a time when women still "had to" grow it long and pin it up. I can't tell if she's wearing pants or a comfortable walking skirt with a men's shirt, but I'll guarantee you she's not wearing corsets. The women of her time may have sniffed at her "mannishness" but were probably also a little jealous of her freedom, and relieved that there was a woman to go to when they needed medical care.
Jan 28, 2012 · Reply
Sandra Limpert Actually, I've done a bit of research on her. She was quite an interesting woman, but the majority of publications I've read have either outright claimed she was a transvestite, as well as a lesbian. She married a college acquaintance and started a practice with him but they separated less than two years later. She accused him of being unfaithful and he accused her of refusing his "due benevolence" - or refusing to have sex with him. She was finally able to get a divorce in 1869.

She served as a surgeon during the Civil War, was at one point captured by the Confederates and later part of a prisoner exchange back to the Union. After the war she worked as a surgeon at a woman's prison in Louisville, KY, as well as principle of a girl's school, I think in Tennessee.

She was elected President of the National Dress Reform Movement in 1866 (she was a supporter of Amelia Bloom) and wore men's clothing for the rest of her life. Although she worked for a time with Susan B. Anthony & Eliz. Cady Stanton for women's suffrage, her "unusual mannerisms and eccentricities" eventually caused her to fall out of favor with them.

She had some strange ideas about sex, claiming that men and women who engaged in oral sex were "diseasing their bodies" and a few other proclivities which I shall not mention here.

She lived with Belva Lockwood, another woman suffragist, for several years. She never remarried.
She is widely accepted by lesbians as, well, a lesbian.

There are MANY books, articles, and other published documents on this woman. From all accounts, she was a pretty strange lady as far as her dress, mannerisms (which by all accounts were mannish) and her eccentricities.

From what I gathered from my reading on this lady, it wasn't just her clothing but also her mannerisms and conduct that were identical to a man's. I deduced that she was either a lesbian or a transgendered individual. She IS widely accepted as such in lesbian writings/literature, from what I've read.

It really doesn't matter, does it? Whether she was heterosexual, lesbian or transgender, she was a very progressive woman for her time. I probably would have been intrigued by her and would like to have known her. Obviously, she cared little for what other people thought of her and just kept reinventing herself every time she was booted out of some school or organization. One has to admire her principles and perseverance.
Jan 28, 2012 · Reply
Eve-Marie Hughes Sandra, thank you! I love having the stories behind the photos - this makes me want to do some researech of my own.
Jan 28, 2012 · Reply
Kathy Pinna Sandra, I have to echo Eve-Marie's comment: Thank you!! She was a fascinating human being and you pointed that out in such detail. She was absolutely herself at a time when it was difficult - and even dangerous - to be "different". (Much like today!) Her sexuality didn't matter - her actions did and she did a lot. Thank you so much for detailing her life!!
Jan 28, 2012 · Reply
Marie Jones Aside from all the comments on her sexuality-as has been said, it really isn't an issue. Can you imagine the horror those eyes saw! I'm sure there were many soldiers grateful for her help. An Amazing Photo that were very lucky to see.
Aug 02, 2014 · Reply
Meg Nobles Main point is that she was the first female battlefield surgeon, someone who willingly faced danger to help other people. What an extraordinary person she must have been.
Dec 10, 2015 · Reply
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