This is the fifth in my Dr. Mary Walker Wednesdays series. Each week I’ll post the first sentence of a new chapter, along with images that relate to material in the chapter. This week’s featured chapter is book-ended by events in Washington, D.C.: a special New Year’s Day celebration in 1863 and, in early 1864, the founding of an important charitable organization. The doctor spent much of the time in between at front line locations.
Chapter Five: In the Field, In the City
On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln held a reception at the Executive Mansion.
(Alfred R. Waud engraving, published in Harper’s Weekly, of the 1862 reception.)
New Year’s Day gatherings were traditional events for U.S. presidents, but the one in 1863 marked an extra special celebration: the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.
During 1863, Mary Walker split her time between the city and the field; one set of activities intertwined with the other. Her work in the field with the army in 1862, first at Warrenton, then at Fredericksburg, made it easier for her to secure the necessary travel passes to move through Virginia and other forward locations.
The doctor also affiliated with the United States Sanitary Commission from time to time, which facilitated her ability to get into the field. The USSC, a private relief organization sanctioned by the federal government, was founded in June 1861 by a group of men who usurped the already existing Women’s Central Relief Association (or Women’s Central Association of Relief). Convened by Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell in April, it envisioned tapping into women’s expansive organizing capabilities to provide medical care for Union soldiers. It eventually merged into the USSC. Though shut out of top leadership in that organization, women like Mary Livermore and Mary Ann Bickerdyke held regional positions that proved integral to the USSC’s success.
(Mary Ann Bickerdyke)