No doubt the Civil War was a dark time in America’s History. However,like most dark times in history, heroes are b often times born during thesehard times. There were larger than lifeheroes, men like Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S.
Grant, and Robert E. Lee, andwomen like Clara Barton and Harriet Tubman. But, there were also lesser known heroes that while not a popular orpublished about, were amazing as well. One such hero was Mary Edwards Walker, acivil war nurse and later surgeon, who may have very well been born before hertime. Mary was born in November of 1832 in Oswego, New York (Biography1).
Her own father was a doctor andalways believed that his daughters, all five of them, deserved to have the sameeducation as the men of their time (Biography). He even felt that his daughters need not dresslike the majority of women, but that women’s fashion was too restricting and letthem dress in more manly clothes. This totally went against the customs of thetime, but neither father nor daughter seemed to care.
Mary decided to attend Syracuse Medical College in 1853. It was one ofAmerica’s first medical schools and one of the few in the country that wouldallow women to attend. Mary graduated as a doctor in 1855 when she was onlytwenty-one years old! She and herhusband tried to set up a practice in Rome, New York, but because people couldn’tseem to want to see a female doctor, it eventually closed its doors. In 1861 the CivilWar broke out, tearing the country in two. Mary immediately wanted tocontribute to the cause (Infoplease1). She enlisted on the Union side,but they would not allow her to be an army surgeon even though she was morethan qualified (Biography1). This didn’t deter her though, she volunteeredinstead as an assistant surgeon at the U.S.
Paton Office Hospital in Washington(Biography). She didn’t stay there long, so she was transferred to the front linesand she worked as a field surgeon right alongside with male doctors. It didn’ttake long for her to be recognized for her excellent work, and in 1863 shebecame an assistant surgeon of the Army of the Cumberland (Biography).
She wasthe first female army surgeon ever, quite an honor during that time in history. In 1864 Confederate troops captured herand sent her to prison claiming she was a spy (Wikipedia 1). To this day, no one knows if sheactually was a spy or not, but after four months she was released when the twosides agreed to trade twenty-four Union doctors for seventeen Confederatedoctors(Biography 1) . She wasknown for being very happy that she had been exchanged “man for man” duringthat trade (Biography). She took great pride in being compared to hermale contemporaries. In November of 1865 Mary received a great privilege, the CongressionalMedal of Honor for Meritorious Service. This was the one and only time beforeor since that this medal was given to a woman, and one of only a few medalsgiven to civilians (Wikipedia1).
She was extremely proud of it and wore it every day until the day shedied (Biography) . She didso even though it was taken away from her in 1917 when Congress changed theirstandards to make it so that only those that actually fought in battle couldreceive the award. In 1977 this decision was reversed and her medal status wasreinstated however, she had died long before knowing it was given back to her (Biography) . Dr. Mary Edwards Walker was a true hero.Not only because of what she did in helping the Union soldiers in the CivilWar, it was also in paving the way for all the women following her that want tobe doctors, or any other profession that were originally all male. She alsobroke fashion norms, not to stand out or to prove a point, but because that washow she felt comfortable and happy.
She was truly, a hero before her time.