|The only woman ever to receive the Medal of Honor|
|Oswego, New York|
Alvah Walker built the town of Oswego’s first schoolhouse on his land; his wife taught there and all of his children were educated there. He intended all of his children to be educated and pursue professional careers.
The first Women’s Rights Convention was held in 1848 in nearby Seneca Falls, New York, when Mary was 16 years old. She became an early supporter of women’s rights and passionately spoke about dress reform. When Amelia Bloomer, in her newspaper, the Lily, defended a colleague’s right to wear “Turkish pantaloons, the pants came came to be known as “bloomers.” After a couple of years, most early feminists stopped wearing them out of societal pressure and taunting. Mary continued to wear pants, as well as a dress coat that was gathered at the waist and ended just below the knees.
In 1850, Mary attended Falley Seminary, in nearby Fulton, New York. She studied algebra, natural philosophy, grammar, hygiene and Latin for two terms.
Elizabeth Blackwell was the first female accepted as a medical student by Geneva Medical College, located in upstate New York. Her acceptance was a near-accident. The dean and faculty, usually responsible for evaluating an applicant, were not able to make a decision; they put the issue up to vote by the 150 male students of the class with the stipulation that if one student objected, Blackwell would be turned away. The young men thought this request was so ludicrous that they believed it to be a joke, and responding accordingly, voted unanimously to accept her. Blackwell received encouragement from both professors and students, however, she experienced a lot of isolation as well. She was looked upon as an oddity by the townspeople of Geneva. In January 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to achieve a medical degree in the United States. The local press reported her graduation favorably, and when the dean, Dr. Charles Lee, conferred her degree, he stood up and bowed to her.
Geneva Medical College was an "Eclectic" medical school. Eclectic medicine was a branch of medicine which made use of botanical remedies along with other substances and physical therapy practices. The term was coined by Constantine Rafinesque, a physician who lived among the Native Americans and observed their use of medicinal plants. Rafinesque used the word "eclectic" to refer to those physicians who employed whatever was found to be beneficial to their patients (eclectic being derived from the Greek word eklego, meaning "to choose from"). Regular medicine at the time made extensive use of purges with calomel and and other mercury-based remedies, as well as extensive bloodletting. Eclectic medicine was a direct reaction to those practices. Eclectic Medicine expanded during the 1840s as part of a large, populist anti-regular medical movement in North America.
Walker was 28 years old when the Civil War began.
|Geneva Medical College|
She had hoped that when she finished her medical training she could travel to the Black Sea in Russia and assist the British troops fighting the Crimean War, probably inspired by the stories of Florence Nightingale's nursing. Instead, she began her own medical practice in Columbus, Ohio, where her aunt, Harriet Walker Hall, lived. The practice did not thrive, however, and she returned home.
A woman must be called MRS. to let all the world know she is married, and if there is a necessity for this, why not call a man MISTERER for the purpose of enlightening the world as to his condition?They set up a joint practice in Rome, New York. Walker also advocated various social causes. In January 1857 she attended a dress reform convention and began contributing regularly to Lydia Sayer Hasbrouck's reformist periodical, The Sibyl: A Review of the Tastes, Errors, and Fashions of Society.
|The Sibyl: A Review of the Tastes, Errors, and Fashions of Society|
Hasbrouck was a hydropathic physician and temperance lecturer from Middletown, New York. By the end of 1857, Walker had made a name for herself as a writer and lecturer on the topic, and in 1860, she was elected to serve as one of the vice-presidents of the National Dress Reform Association. She also began to turn her attention to other controversial issues in the women's rights movement, speaking out on subjects such as alcohol, tobacco, education, marriage, abortion, the smallpox vaccine and the concept of equal pay for equal work.
|Lydia Sayer Hasbrouck|
He told me that if I would not get a bill of divorce, I could have the same privilege of infidelity. I could never live with a man who could make such a vile proposition to his wife.After four years of marriage, in 1859, Walker separated from him. She began divorce proceedings in the state of New York: women had to prove the unfaithfulness of their husband, and then had to wait at least five years for the decree.
Years later, she wrote in her book, HIT:
True conjugal companionship is the greatest blessing of which mortals can conceive in life . . . Nothing can make an individual more wretched than to lose confidence. It is not simply that which is lost in one person, but the distrust that is felt in all humanity.
. . . To be deprived of a Divorce is like being shut up in a prison because someone attempted to kill you. The wicked one takes his ease and continues his course, and you take the slanders, without the power to defend yourself.In 1859, Congressman Daniel Sickles shot and killed Phillip Barton Key for having an affair with his wife, Teresa Bagioli Sickles. Sickles saw Key sitting on a bench outside the Sickles home in Washington, D.C. on February 27, 1859, signalling to Teresa, and confronted him. Sickles rushed outside into Lafayette Square, cried "Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my home; you must die", and with a pistol repeatedly shot the unarmed Key. Sickles was acquitted on the basis of temporary insanity, a crime of passion, in one of a controversial trial. It was the first successful use of the defense in the United States. Sickles' attorney, Edwin Stanton, later became the Secretary of War. Newspapers declared Sickles a hero for "saving" women from Key.
In 1860, Walker went to Iowa, hoping to secure a divorce, since Iowa had more lenient laws. She stayed in Delhi with a lawyer who was family friend. She briefly attended Bowen Collegiate Institute in Hopkinton, Iowa; she was suspended for joining the school debating society, which had previously been all male.
|Bowen Collegiate Institute, Hopkinton, Iowa|
|U.S. Patent Office building|
I need and desire her assistance here very much believing as I do that she is well qualified for the position.Finley refused. Green offered Walker part of his salary, but she refused because he needed it for his family.
|Clement A. Finley|
Walker worked as a volunteer for as long as she could afford to do so, gaining experience in military medicine. In January 1862 she went to New York City where she attended the Hygeia Therapeutic College for a semester and earned a second medical diploma. Hygeia was a "water-cure medical school" created in 1857, and the curriculum included lectures and clinical visits at Bellevue Hospital. After she graduated Walker returned to Oswego, New York where she lectured about her experiences in Washington.
She wrote to the War Department, requesting employment with the Secret Service as a Union spy, but this offer was declined. There was speculation, during the war and after, that she worked as a spy in Confederate territory. In a letter addressed to the secretary of war in 1862, Walker wrote:
I refer to my being sent to Richmond under a "flag of truce" for the relief of our sick soldiers and then use the style (of double communication in writing their necessities) that I invented, to give you information as their forces and plans and any important information. No one knows what the style of writing is, except Hon. Mssrs. Cameron Seward and Mr. Allen of the "Secret Service."
|Warrenton, Virginia, 1862|
The General Commanding directs that Dr. Mary E. Walker be authorized to accompany and assist in caring for, from Warrenton Virginia to Washington D.C., the sick and wounded soldiers now at the former post. The Surgeon in Charge there will afford every facility to Dr. Walker for that purpose.She had designed her own uniform, with a gold stripe down the side of the pants.
|Walker during the Civil War|
Her sex ought not to disqualify her for the performance of deeds of mercy to the suffering heroes of the republic. Dressed in male habiliments with the exception of a girlish-looking straw hat, decked off with an ostrich feather, with a petite figure and feminine features. . . she carries herself amid the camp with a jaunty air of dignity well calculated to receive the sincere respect of the soldiers . . . Strange to say that, although she has frequently applied for a permanent position in the medical corps, she has never been formally assigned to any particular duty.
I could see the pulsation of the brain, and when he talked I could see a movement of the same . . . He was perfectly sensible . . .
a heap of feet, legs, arms, and human fragments, cut bloody, black and blue, swelled and sickening . . . Death is nothing here.Walker disapproved of the frequency of amputations conducted by Army physicians, believing many of them were unnecessary. She was responsible for helping to diminish the number of leg amputations performed on the wounded soldiers by telling the stretcher barriers to keep a wounded soldier’s head higher than their legs. This attitude irritated her colleagues and did little to help her in her quest for a commission.
She also opposed the practice of bloodletting and insisted on good hygiene around the wounded. In a letter published in The Sibyl, Walker wrote:
It is literally impossible for one with any force of character and humanity to remain 'in the background,' when convinced by knowledge and reason, that their mission is evidently one that will result in great good in those whose necessities demand that they have not the power to gain for them selves. For such let us labor. Virtue is as much higher than innocence as angers are higher than mortals.In January 1863, Dr. Preston King, who had worked with Walker at Fredericksburg, wrote a letter to Secretary Edwin Stanton describing her contributions and asking for more compensation for her than a tent and rations. Walker spent most of 1863 in Washington, working with the Women’s Relief Association, a group that helped female visitors to Washington find a safe place to stay. She raised funds from local suffrage groups to rent a house opposite Ford's Theater, and turned it into a women's lodging facility. In exchange for her services, she was allowed to live there free of charge. Walker also started a service that helped women locate their loved ones in the various hospitals around Washington. The suffragette groups held benefits, appealed to newspapers and to wealthy Washingtonians to raise money for the relief effort. In the spring of 1863, Walker met President and Mrs. Lincoln at a White House reception.
|Abraham Lincoln, 1863|
Having been so long the friend of soldiers . . . I feel confident that I can be successful in getting reenlistment of men who would not enlist in any other person's Reg.In January 1864, she wrote to Lincoln saying she had been denied a commission "solely on the ground of sex", and asked to be assigned at Douglas Hospital "in the female ward, as there cannot possibly be any objection urged on account of sex." In response, Lincoln sent a letter which read in part:
The Medical Department of the army is an organized system in the hands of men supposed to be learned in that profession and I am sure it would injure the service for me, with strong hand, to thrust among them anyone, male or female, against their consent.
|George H. Thomas|
Her commanding officer at Gordon's Mills, Colonel Daniel McCook, Jr., of the "Fighting McCooks" was grateful to have her. During her time under McCook's supervision, Walker would cross enemy lines to assist Georgians whose lives had been destroyed by the war.
|Daniel McCook, Jr|
Both armies had been upon the ground . . . but the Confederate army had been all through there pressing every man into service, even those that were too young . .. and it left the women, as they said, "To root hog or die." . . . I cannot tell you how sincerely I pitied those people.
On one of these runs, she may have encountered the Confederate guerrilla, Champ Ferguson. He allowed her to go on after she told him she was on her way to provide care to civilian residents. Soldiers back at Gordon Mills believed she had met Ferguson; after the war, she recognized Ferguson's photograph in a book.
|Daniel Harvey Hill|
|Castle Thunder Prison, Richmond, Virginia|
The female Yankee surgeon captured by our pickets a short time since, in the neighborhood of the army of Tennessee, was received in this city yesterday evening, and sent to the Castle in charge of a detective. Her appearance on the street in full male costume, with the exception of a gipsey hat, created quite an excitement amongst the idle negroes and boys who followed and surrounded her. She gave her name as Dr. Mary E. Walker, and declared that she had been captured on neutral ground. She was dressed in black pants and black or dark talma or paletot. She was consigned to the female ward of Castle Thunder, there being no accommodations at the Libby for prisoners of her sex.
We must not omit to add that she is ugly and skinny, and apparently above thirty years of age.The local press ridiculed Walker at every opportunity, as in the June 29, 1864 issue of The Richmond Examiner:
MISS WALKER, THE YANKEE SURGEONESS. – Miss Doctress, Miscegenation, Philosophical Walker, who has so long ensconced herself very quietly in Castle Thunder, has loomed into activity again. Recently she got mad, pitched into several of her room-mates in long clothes, and tore out handsfuls of auburn hair from the head of one of them. Then she proclaimed secession, and went into another apartment, where she is now lady and lioness of all she surveys. Sometimes she exhibits herself in costume on the balcony of the Castle, or walks in the garden below by permission of the urbane commandant of the post, Captain Richardson. Her miscegenation suit is getting rusty, and she thinks it hard, very hard, that she is not allowed to go home. She is very fond of listening to the thunder thuds of Papa Grant’s pop-guns below, and when they sound, her favorite song is “The Camels are coming, hie oh, hie oh,” &c. It is said she has a Yankee Major lover among the prisoners at the Libby prison, which is one square below the Castle, and within easy signal range.
Walker complained about the lack of grain and vegetables for prisoners, and the Confederates added wheat bread and cabbage to the rations. In a letter to her parents, Walker claimed she was well fed and treated fairly, but she was likely protecting them from the truth. Food was known to be scarce at Castle Thunder, and rations were maggot-filled. Walker's mattress was infested with vermin, and rats ran across the filthy prison floor.
Late in July she became ill with an eye inflammation. General William M. Gardner, the chief of prisons, interviewed her, and lectured her on her attire and her participation in the war.
After four months of imprisonment, she was exchanged on August 12, 1864, along with 24 other Union doctors, for 17 Confederate doctors. She was proud that her exchange was for a Confederate surgeon of the rank of major.
As a result of her incarceration, she suffered vision problems that later in life prevented her from practicing medicine. Walker said the conditions at Castle Thunder left her with lifelong health problems that hindered her work as a doctor.
In September 1864 she was granted $432.36 for her services from March 11. After her release and recovery, Walker returned to the lecture circuit to speak about her war experiences. She also campaigned for President Lincoln, who was running for re-election.
At the end of 1864, as a civilian contract surgeon with a monthly salary of $100, she was assigned to the Louisville Female Military Hospital in Kentucky.
|Mary Edwards Walker 1864|
Almost immediately after Walker's arrival, Dr. E. O. Brown, the chief physician for the prisons, wrote a letter to Assistant Surgeon General Wood about her incompetence. According to Brown's letter, both he and the inmates found Walker's conduct "'intolerable'." Several male employees criticized Walker for being too lenient with the prisoners. Walker's leniency took the form of letter writing for some of the prisoners and she requested the release of others, but she soon lost sympathy for them because of what she saw as their "ungrateful demands."
About a year ago, Miss Dr. MARY E. WALKER, it will be remembered, was captured in front of Gen. JOSEPH E. JOHNSTON's army, in Tennessee, and sent to Richmond. After being incarcerated for a considerable period in Castle Thunder, she was released, much to the gratification of those who do not believe in the imprisonment of females except upon very aggravated charges. Since then we have heard nothing of her until we saw her yesterday upon Broad-street, clad in a blue coat with military buttons, and a very long skirt, a pair of nicely-fitting blue pants (not like the dandies now wear,) and gaiters, which fitted so as to display a pretty foot. As she passed the Powhatan Hotel she was followed by a number of colored school boys and girls, and by the time she reached Seventh-street, her retinue in number would have done no discredit to a lieutenant-general. Ladies congregated upon the corners, and men and boys stopped along the sidewalk to comment upon the novel appearance of a lady in uniform. At the corner of Sixth and Broad streets, as she turned to go through the market, she was stopped by the provost-guard, who asked her by what authority she appeared upon the streets in the garb in which she was attired. She replied, "By what authority do you make the inquiry?" Guard -- "By order of the Provost-Marshal." "Then give him my compliments and tell him I will call upon him." She then moved off as if nothing had occurred. Dr. WALKER, we learn, has been South in search of her brother, who belonged to the army, and was fortunate enough to find him.
|Powhatan Hotel, Richmond, Virginia|
has performed service deserving the recognition of the Govt. - which I desire to give - if there is any way in which, or precedent, by which this may be done.
|William T. Sherman|
Whereas it appears from official reports that Dr. Mary E. Walker, a graduate of medicine, "has rendered valuable service to the Government, and her efforts have been earnest and untiring in a variety of ways," and that she was assigned to duty and served as an assistant surgeon in charge of female prisoners at Louisville, Ky., upon the recommendation of Major-Generals Sherman and Thomas, and faithfully served as contract surgeon in the service of the United States, and has devoted herself with much patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded soldiers, both in the field and hospitals, to the detriment of her own health, and has also endured hardships as a prisoner of war four months in a Southern prison while acting as contract surgeon; and Whereas by reason of her not being a commissioned officer in the military service, a brevet or honorary rank cannot, under existing laws, be conferred upon her; and Whereas in the opinion of the President an honorable recognition of her services and sufferings should be made. It is ordered, That a testimonial thereof shall be hereby made and given to the said Dr. Mary E. Walker, and that the usual medal of honor for meritorious services be given her.
|Mary Edwards Walker wearing Medal of Honor|
On June 14, 1866, while browsing in a New York City shop, the other women customers reacted to her clothing, and the shop owner asked the police to escort her from the premises. Walker resister, and patrolman Patrick H. Pickett arrested her for impersonating a man. When the booking officer asked her where her home was, she replied, "Wherever float the Stripes and Stars!" When he asked why she dressed as a man instead of wearing long skirts as becomes a lady, she said:
I wear this dress from high moral principle; the fashionable dress of the day is not such as any physiologist can defend. . . It sweeps the filth from your sidewalks; it fastens the lungs as within a coffin and it is an abomination, invented by the prostitutes of Paris and as such unfit to be worn by a modest American woman.The police lawyer state that wearing male clothing was clearly an offense that cause "public excitement" and that under the law it was a misdemeanor, punishable for a fine, and, if repeated, incarceration.
Later than month, she was elected president of the National Dress Reform Association, which met for its convention in Syracuse, New York.
|Portrait of Walker taken in London|
The doctoress wore on her breast the medal received from Congress . . . The doctoress, who is a zealous tee-totaler, would drink nothing but water; still there was drinking of healths, and a fraternal knocking of glasses.She returned to the United States later in August 1867 and lectured on her "impressions of European women's suffrage" as well as her war experiences, love and marriage. Tobacco, she said, resulted in paralysis and insanity. Most her her audiences were arranged by women's groups in small towns. She traveled extensively throughout the United States in 1868, in New York, New England, Ohio, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, but she was not as enthusiastically received as she had been in Europe and her lectures were not great money makers. In Kansas City she was again arrested for her male clothing.
|Mary Edwards Walker|
|Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony|
In 1869, 13 years after marrying Albert Miller, Walker finally received her divorce from New York state. After the dissolution of their marriage, Walker refused to speak about Albert Miller except when she referred to him as "'that villain'."
|Albert Miller, later in life|
My heart is filled with more than regard for the Southern Sisterhood, for you like us, must feel the degradation of all unenfranchised women in a professed to be Republican country.When Walker arrived in Mississippi, she found that the invitation had been a hoax, one of a series of insulting pranks that would continue through the rest of her life.
In 1871, Walker published her first book, HIT, which was a combination autobiography and commentary on divorce. It contained eight chapters: Love & Marriage, Dress Reform, Tobacco, Temperance, Woman's Franchise, Divorce, Labor, and Religion. She dedicated it to the "practical dress reformers" who did more for women than anyone else, to her "professional sisters," and to that "great sisterhood, which embraces women with their thousand unwritten trials and sorrows."
|Portrait of Walker in her 1871 book, HIT|
As the suffragette movement's call for votes for women drew national attention, dress reform again became a topic of public debate, but this time, feminists were wary of the bloomer controversy of the 1850s, and tended to disassociate themselves from women wearing any version of the costume. Walker wore the bloomer dress until the late 1870s, when she began dressing in men's clothes, from the top hat, wing collar and bow tie to the pants and shoes. Arrests continued for impersonating a man.
|Walker in more mannish clothing|
A first-grade disability, providing a pension of $31.25 per month, was a permanent disability requiring the regular aid and attendance of another person. A second-grade disability, warranting a monthly pension of $24.00, was a permanent disability that incapacitated the claimant for the performance of any manual labor. Permanent disabilities equivalent to the loss of a hand or foot were third grade and were pensionable at $18.00 per
month. The bureau established a series of rates below $18.00 per month for specific conditions. Among the rates were $6.00 per month for the loss of the great toe, $8.00 per month for anchylosis of the wrist, and $12.00 per month for the loss of the sight in one eye.
The commissioner of the pension office indicated that her capture by the Confederates had been part of her orders to spy on the enemy:
Your appointment as contract surgeon was made for the purpose, not of performing of duties pertaining to such office, but that you might be captured by the enemy to enable you to obtain information concerning their military affairs; in other words, you were to act in the role of a spy for the United States military authorities. . . . Therefor, your claim to pension on account of disease of eyes contracted while a prisoner of war does not come within the purview of the general pension law.Walker second book was Unmasked; or The Science of Immorality, published in 1878. It was a treatise on ethics and sex for men, in which she wrote her beliefs on a variety of topics considered taboo, from folk medicine to kissing and venereal disease.
|Mary Walker in her house|
In March 1886, the New York Times reported on her visit to Newport, Rhode Island:
Newport, R.I.–This evening Dr. Mary Walker was for a brief period detained at the police station, where she expressed her surprise and disgust at the officials of a city who did not know the law, and who had laid itself liable by obliging her to accompany Officer Scott from Commercial Wharf to the office of the Chief of Police.
The doctor arrived here by boat from Providence at 6 o’clock, and desired to be shown the residence of Miss Sarah Briggs, an old friend whom she had not seen since the Union soldiers were taken to Portsmouth Grove, near this place, for treatment during the civil war. She had been pleading in Providence with the members of the Legislature in behalf of woman’s suffrage, and for the payment of a Revolutionary claim which she claimed the State owed her friend Miss Briggs.
She had no sooner reached the plank walk when, at the instance of several females who had seen her on the boat, the officer told her that she must accompany him to the police station. She told the officer her name and said that he was violating the Constitution by interfering with her freedom. The officer, strange as it may seem, had never heard of Dr. Mary Walker and he insisted upon taking her to the station.
The doctor reluctantly accompanied the officer, and was followed by a crowd of men and boys, who, it would appear, had never seen a woman dressed in men’s clothing before, and it was a sight which they will never forget. The Chief of Police, being a man of intelligence and conversant with the laws, expressed his regret at her arrest, and apologized for his officer, who, he said, had acted in good faith. This would not satisfy the doctor, who was naturally very angry, and she insisted upon learning the officer’s name, and demanded that he be discharged from the police force. She was forced to admit, however, that she had been arrested in other cities by mistake. She remained at the station for some time, and repeated the law for the benefit of the officer who had arrested her. She also delivered quite a lecture upon sundry subjects, for which she is noted, and then walked out of the office with her hat on one side and with her cane in a very dudish position. The incident created a decided sensation. She will leave town to-morrow. It is rumored that she does not intend to let the matter drop, and a few wiseacres predict that she will try and make trouble for the city.
|Mary Edwards Walker|
There are a number of queer characters in Washington who can hardly be labeled cranks, yet who are so different from the average run of humanity that they come very close to it. One of these is Dr. Mary Walker, who struts about Washington in men’s clothes, wearing black broadcloth pantaloons, patent leathers boots, a Prince Albert coat and a plug hat. She is a short-haired little woman of less than five feet, and her hands and feet are small. She has a weazened, dried-up face, and she looks like a funny little dwarf as she struts about with a cane daintily held between her fingers. She likes to be seen, and wherever there is a respectable free crowd you will find her in it. She calls upon the president, representatives, and senators, and she does not object to office when she can get it.
|Illustration, "A Quartette of Capital Celebrities|
Walker earned as much $150 a week for her appearances, and between 1887 and 1893 toured Chicago, Illinois; Toledo and Cincinnati, Ohio; Buffalo and New York City, New York; Detroit, Michigan and other cities. Because of the sideshow aspect of the venues, her tour received negative attention and did not help her reputation. During the 1893 tour, the Toledo Blade reported on her appearance at a museum called Wonderland:
There was a time when this remarkable woman stood upon the same platform of Presidents and the world's greatest women. There is something grotesque in her appearance on the stage built for freaks.
|Kohl & Middleton's Advertisement|
In 1890, she finally was granted a $20 a month pension.
In Oswego, Walker engaged in behavior and activities that often angered her neighbors and and family. In one incident, she attempted to get a former hired hand on her farm, Arthur D. Snoad, arrested for the murder of Christie Warden, a farmer's daughter in New Hampshire. Andrew Warden, a farmer in the Hanover area, took on a hired hand who called himself Frank Almy. Almy was actually a convicted felon named George Abbott who had escaped from prison three years before. He began courting Christina, known as Christie. In April 1891, the following spring, Almy was fired by the Wardens due to lack of work to be done on the farm. He left the area, but returned in June obsessed with the idea of seeing Christie again. On July 17, 1891, he encountered Christie, her sister Fanny, her mother, and a friend walking home from a Grange meeting. He pulled Christie from the group at gunpoint and dragged her off the road. He shot her to death and then escaped.
There was a $5,000 reward offered for information leading to his capture and conviction. Walker relied upon spiritualism and dreams to find evidence that she believed implicated Arthur Snoad in the murder of Christie Warden. Snoad had worked on her farm for a few days in the summer of 1891 before quitting. Walker traveled 250 miles to the Warden family home in New Hampshire in September, and claimed that Almy was innocent; her visit resulted in her arrest. Snoad, who had been arrested in Syracuse because of her accusations, successfully sued her for slander. Almy was captured and convicted of the murder, and hanged on May 16, 1893. From this time on, many residents in the Oswego area believed that Walker was insane, regarding her claims as "the idle vaporing of a crank."
In November 1893, Walker was interviewed at her home by a reporter for the Nashua Telegraph, who described Walker as:
One of the most pleasant and courteous persons to interview that can be imagined and answered all of the reporter's questions in a most kindly manner. Dr. Walker is one of the most widely advertised persons in America. She is called a crank, insane, and has been abused by the press and in private more times than any woman in the country and yet to sit down and talk with her on any subject relating to the welfare of uplifting of her fellowmen and women she at once appears as a liberal minded, earnest and self sacrificing advocate of all methods that tend to the ennobling or elevating of her fellow creatures. Many of her ideas in this respect are advanced and doubtless far ahead of the majority of people and yet they are for the betterment of society rather than for its debasement. . . . Her methods and acts may be questionable, but the principle that prompts them seems to be sincere.
|"An Adamless Eden"|
SKIRTS AND MEN BARREDDr. Mary Walker's Adamless Eden for New Women.BLOOMERS ARE COMPULSORYCelibacy Will Also Be An Absolute Requisite and No Side Saddles Will Be Allowed--Will Plow and Sow and Reap and Mow Just Like Real Men
Oswego, N.Y, Oct. 1. -- Dr. Mary Walker, who has for the past forty years been one of the most eccentric dress reformers of the country, and who has been arrested in many cities for appearing on the street in male attire, has a new scheme on hand looking to the advancement of the bloomer girl. . . . She proposes to form a colony -- for females only. Those joining this colony must bind themselves to a life of celibacy so long as they remain members of the community, and must wear bloomers for life. . . . The farm will be worked by the members, who will plant and harvest the crops and take them to market. The horses on the place will not be furnished with side saddles, as the girls will ride astride.
Dr. Walker will personally look after the daily routine work, and will exercise her authority in all matters connected with the colony.
"We will live in a large, commodious farm house, for which I am having plans prepared, " Dr. Walker informed me today. "Every member will have her own room. Portieres will take the place of doors. Steam will be employed for heating purposes, and there will be bathrooms and every convenience to be found in a well-regulated house.
"I shall give my personal supervision to the establishment. Members, however, will elect officers twice a year to conduct it. There will be an auditing board to look after all accounts, an improvement board to look after improvements to the property, and a governing board.
"It shall be the duty of the chairman of the latter to report all infractions of rules by members. There will be two judges chosen. One will have powers similar to a police magistrate; the other will have a position analogous to a general term. Those accused of infractions of the rules will be tried by a jury of five, and, if not satisfied with the judgements of the lower courts, they can appeal to me. I will sit as a court of last resort.
|Mary Edwards Walker|
"The rules of evidence, as governing our State judiciary, will apply. There will be no imprisonments; all punishment will consist of withdrawal of privileges for a certain length of time. If we should get into our fold undesirable women, who flirt or gad about with men when they go to market or on other occasions, they will, after suitable warning, be expelled. All females of good character, between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five years, are eligible for membership. I am certain that the farm can be made to support fifty or seventy-five persons.
"Each member will have a share in the profits after the expense for board and clothing has been deducted. The remainder will go into a general fund for betterments and the purchase of adjoining lands, if it is deemed necessary and the community grows as rapidly as I believe it will. I have not decided whether it would be wise to exact an initiation fee or not. If it is so decided it will be comparatively small. . .
"My great object is to educate and to turn out new women, as the newspaper men term them. They will be women who have governed themselves. . . Besides, it will not all be farm work. There will be many hours each day for study, and the curriculum will be as broad and extended as that in any of our universities. There will be frequent lectures in a large assembly room that I propose to have, and current literature, politics and questions of the day will be discussed. The members can ride bicycles, and a number will be kept for their use.
"The site selected for the new colony is a delightful one, in the very heart of the finest fruit country in New York State. Several acres of the land have been used in raising the famous Oswego county strawberries. There is a fine apple orchard, several hundred pear trees and four acres devoted to a vinyard. It is a beautiful place, and unless all my plans fail it will be a perfect garden of Eden, but without an Adam."
. . . The doctor is enjoying good health, and her plans are being carefully made. Many prominent women of this city interested in the advancement of women have been consulted, and approve of the scheme.
|Metropolitan Magazine, 1895|
|"A Suggestion to the Buffalo Exposition: - Let Us Have a Chamber of Female Horrors."|
Cartoon from Puck magazine, 1901
To the left are caricatures of Mary Edwards Walker, Belva Lockwood, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Doctor Mary Walker, the woman who wears the garb of man, came within an ace of being mobbed in a railroad coach at Syracuse, New York, on account of some disparaging remarks concerning President McKinley. She was on the verge of being knocked down when her sex was discovered. Only a reprimand followed on that occasion, but now rumor says that Mary will lose her pension in consequence of her prattling.
|Mary Walker's Medals of Honor|
|Dr. Mary Walker, New York City, 1912|
"The only self made man in America"
The Woman's Franchise Club of Chicago, through Belva LOCKWOOD, on Saturday presented to Dr. Mary WALKER a gold wrist watch, in token of her having been the first to establish a woman's club. Dr. WALKER established in 1863 the Woman's Relief Club. This was during the civil war, when she was acting assistant surgeon in the United States army.
|Mary Edwards Walker|
|Mary Walker, 1916|
In 1917, Congress created a pension act for Medal of Honor recipients, and in doing so created separate Army and Navy Medal of Honor Rolls. The Army decided to review eligibility for inclusion on the Army Medal of Honor Roll. The medal and the criteria for earning it had been under debate for decades. More than 2,600 medals had been awarded, the majority of them for Civil War actions. The 1917 Medal of Honor Board revised the standards for the Medal of Honor to include only “actual combat with an enemy,” and deleted 911 names from the Army Medal of Honor Roll, including that of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker and William "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Among the others whose medals were rescinded in the "Purge of 1917" were the 555 medals given to the troops of the 27th Maine to re-enlist, and the 29 medals given to officers and enlisted men who accompanied President Lincoln's remains on the funeral train from Washington, D.C. to Illinois.
In striking Walker's medal, the board stated that her service "does not appear to have been distinguished in action or otherwise", and said that she had not been commissioned or appointed as a full-fledged surgeon. The board also mentioned the "adverse report of the Surgeon General," and her rejection by the medical board prior to her assignment to the 52nd Ohio Regiment.
Walker petitioned the generals who sat on the board, but they did not reconsider their decision. She refused to return or stop wearing the two medals, the original and the updated version she had received in 1907. She spent the last years of her life devoted to getting the citation reinstated. None of the 911 recipients were ordered to return their medals. Although it was technically against the law to wear the medal, Walker had worn it, and continued to wear it, from the day she got it until she died.
In her last interview, the Syracuse Post-Standard reported her as saying:
Presidents and cabinet ministers and great generals were glad to meet and listen to me. I was younger then, and I was working for our soldier boys . . . Now I am alone with the infirmities of age fast weighing me down and practically penniless, and no one wants to be bothered with me . . . But it is the same experiences that have come to others, and why should I complain?She died at the age of 86, on February 21, 1919, while staying at the home of her neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Dwyer in Oswego, New York.
An obituary appeared in the Rome Daily Sentinel on February 22, 1919:
Oswego - Feb. 21 - Dr. Mary Walker, aged 87 years, died at the home of a neighbor on Bunker Hill near Oswego at 8 o'clock after a long illness. She was a surgeon in the Civil War and was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor. She was a pioneer woman suffragist and gained considerable fame by being the only woman allowed to appear in male attire by an act of Congress.
Dr. Walker was injured in a fall on the capitol steps in Washington two years ago and returned home last spring considerably weakened in health. She declined to accept the proffered assistance of neighbors in caring for her house but later she yielded to the suggestion of the town authorities that she go to the United States General Hospital at Fort Ontario, where she remained for several weeks and was apparently much improved in health. At her request she was permitted to leave the hospital and return home. She died in the home of a neighbor who had been caring for her.
Dr. Walker was a resident of Rome for several years in the late fifties and early sixties, and practiced medicine here in connection with her husband, Dr. Miller, from whom she was afterward separated. At that time she called herself Dr. Mary Miller Walker. She and her husband had offices on the north side of Dominick Street midway between James and Washington Street. While living in Rome she wore the bloomer costume, afterward adopting the full male attire. Her last visit to Rome was in September, 1909 when she made an address at the Oneida County Fair.
Dr. Mary E. Walker led a picturesque career. Four years were spent on the battlefields of the Civil War. The remainder of her active life was spent in fighting for feminine dress reform and woman's right to political suffrage, in which movements she was a pioneer. She frequently claimed to have been the first American woman to attempt to cast a ballot in a legal election. Her livelihood was earned during all these years by her private medical practice and by writing.
. . . Her war career began at the age of 29. She volunteered her services, entering the Union army as an assistant surgeon, with the rank of first lieutenant. She dressed like her brother officers having a gold stripe running down the trouser legs, wearing a felt hat with gold cord, and an officer's overcoat. Her jacket was cut like a blouse and fitted loosely at the neck. When I had on my overcoat, Dr. Walker declared, I looked every inch a man and I am sure I acted it.
Dr. Walker's proudest possession was the bronze medal she wore on the bosom of her frock coat. On the back was engraved Presented by Congress of the United States to Mary E. Walker, A. A. Surgeon, U. S. Army.
. . . Do I ever have unkind things said to me? she once said, echoing an interviewer's question. Yes, of course - by ill-bred people. But they are few. When any one does say anything unpleasant I usually have something to say in return which makes us quits. O, I tell you, trousers are a great thing.
Occasionally a policeman failing to recognize the little, gray-haired woman, placed her under arrest. This recently happened in Chicago. . . . Her only remark regarding the guardian of the law was: He's an old idiot.
Although a pioneer in the woman suffrage movements, Dr. Walker was out of sympathy with the methods of some of her sister-workers. Women will get suffrage just as soon as they stop making fools of themselves, she declared recently with considerable vigor. They've got to stop talking so much and do some work. These everlasting amendments will never get them their rights. They want to state what they want and stick to it.A plain funeral service without singing was held at her home on February 24. She was buried in her black frock suit in a flag-draped casket.
|Walker Family Graves|
|Grave of Mary Edwards Walker|
|Statue of Walker in front of the Oswego Town Hall|
On March 25, 1912 The New York Times wrote about her:
She had a sort of dignity, and about her an essential goodness.