Friday, March 9, 2012

The only woman to win the Congressional Medal of Honor

Dr. Mary Walker with her medal
At the age of 29, Mary Walker began four years of service as a Union Civil War surgeon. She also was a POW, and a possible Union spy.  
Dr. Walker is the only woman to have won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
It was awarded to her by President Johnson in 1865. Years later, in 1917, it was revoked. Dr. Walker believed it was revoked because of her political activity advocating that women should have the right to vote. The medal, however, was one of 910 revoked medals due to changes in the medal's requirements ( In 1977, the medal was reinstated.
Dr. Walker in her top hat.
Despite the official status of the medal during her lifetime, Dr. Walker wore it every day until her death, Feb. 21, 1919.
When Walker graduated from medical school at the age of 23, there were only a few women doctors in this country. Initially, when she offered her services to the army, she was not wanted. She volunteered anyway, going to the front lines where she knew her training would be welcome in spite of her gender.
In 1864, she was assigned to the 52nd Ohio Volunteers at Chattanooga, TN. Assigned to the unit as a civilian surgeon, her job included caring for military and civilian patients alike. 
She was captured by Confederate soldiers one night and imprisoned in Richmond at the Castle Thunder POW camp. She was not allowed to use her services on either Union or Confederate soldiers. She also became sick at the camp. Eventually, she was exchanged for a Confederate officer.
The Walker US postage stamp
Another interesting fact about Dr. Walker is that she was legally allowed to dress as a man – by an Act of Congress:
"By special authorization from the federal Congress Dr. Walker adopted male attire during the Civil War and for the half century
since she had continued to wear it in civil life – the only woman in the country who ever had her rights in this respect prescribed by the national legislature. She wore a black frock coat, trousers, and a high silk hat and carried a cane." f
rom Dr. Walker's obituary in The Daily Rome Sentinel
Let it fly!

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