Dr. Mary Walker Reads the Declaration of Independence

July 4, 1865 was a bittersweet holiday for many Americans. The long Civil War that tore the country apart had ended about two months earlier. The Union survived, slavery ended. But President Abraham Lincoln, who helped secure those two ends, was dead from an assassin’s bullet.

Image result for july 4, 1865(“Peace-Fourth of July 1865, Harper’s Weekly)

Mary Walker, a 32-year-old physician, was at loose ends. With the war over, her last appointment as a contract surgeon with the U.S. army, at the Refugee Home in Clarksville, Tennessee, had drawn to a close. She received orders to return to Washington, D.C., where her employment was terminated on June 15. Walker decided to travel for awhile, and she made Richmond, Virginia–until recently the capital of the Confederacy–her first stop.

Image result for july 4, 1865 richmond, va(NARA)

The woman doctor was well known in Richmond. In 1864, she had been a prisoner of war in Castle Thunder, and now she walked its halls as a free woman. The Richmond Bulletin reported Mary Walker’s presence on the city streets, beginning with a description of her outfit: “a blue coat with military buttons, and a very long skirt, a pair of nicely-fitting blue pants…and gaiters, which fitted so as to display a pretty foot.” The doctor attracted a lot of attention as she walked along Broad Street past the Powhatan Hotel. A small group of African American children followed her. Men and boys “stopped along the sidewalk to comment upon the novel appearance of a lady in uniform.” A provost guard challenged Dr. Walker’s right to wear that apparel in public. She told him to give the provost marshal her regards, that she would call on him later, and resumed her stroll.

https://history.army.mil/news/2016/images/gal_maryEdwardsWalker/gal_drMaryEdwardsWalker_moh1.jpg(U.S. Army Center of Military History)

On July 4, Mary Walker participated in Richmond’s Independence Day celebration. The anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator reported on the subdued crowd, “not enthusiastic, except, perhaps, among a portion of the Union soldiers stationed there, and at the pic-nics of the freed people.” The formal program began with a prayer from the Reverend George S. Stockwell of the First African Baptist Church. Dr. Walker, “late surgeon in the army,” dressed in her blue uniform, read the Declaration of Independence from the steps of the state capital building. It was probably the last time she appeared in public in her uniform, though she never stopped wearing her version of reform (“Bloomer”) dress. Mary Walker spent the rest of her life fighting for women’s rights to equal employment, equal education, and equal suffrage.



Celebrating the 4th of July During an Enemy Occupation

On January 5, 1942, days after invading Japanese troops occupied the Philippine capital of Manila, Josephine Waldo and her husband Bill, a Goodyear employee, along with other Allied nationals living in the Michel Apartments, were herded into army trucks and delivered to Rizal Stadium for registration. From there, they were transferred to the campus of Santo Tomas University, which served as an internment camp for Allied nationals for the duration of the enemy occupation.

Santo Tomas

Despite their circumstances, the American prisoners of the Japanese expressed national pride by celebrating holidays, especially the 4th of July. They risked raising the ire of the Japanese guards, but couldn’t stop themselves from marking the occasion.

On July 4, 1942, Josephine Waldo wrote in her diary, “Hurrah for the Stars and Stripes! It seems rather strange to be celebrating the 4th in a concentration camp, but it takes more than that to down the good old American spirit.” To celebrate, she and Bill ate ice cream and chocolate cake with friends, listened to firecrackers going off, and admired fellow internees’ red, white, and blue outfits. The day was topped off with a lecture about Thomas Jefferson and a group sing of “America the Beautiful.”

In 1943, Claire Phillips, an American woman who evaded internment by concocting a false nationality, marked the holiday by launching “Operation Hamburger.” She and some other Manila women had been smuggling food and supplies to Allied military prisoners held at the Park Avenue School for use as forced labor.

Claire and the women of “Operation Hamburger” sliced fifty loaves of rice bread and fried up meat patties to make hamburger sandwiches. They arranged with a local shop owner to slip the hamburgers to the men as they marched past. Nothing could be more American, Claire reasoned, than eating a hamburger on the 4th of July.

On July 4, 1944, the last 4th of internment, Ethel Thomas Herold, interned with her family in Baguio, a few hours north of Luzon, noted in her diary that she “hardly noticed” the day. The war had been going badly for the Japanese, who took their frustrations out on the prisoners. Food became scarce; many of the internees would soon start to exhibit signs of starvation. No one had enough supplies for a special meal or celebration on the 4th.

Still, Ethel described how some of the internees came to her room to look at and touch an American flag that she and some of the other women had been working on. “We women have slowly and lovingly button holed every star and sewed and resewed the seams just to be holding the flag. Whatever becomes of this flag, it serves its purpose in here, by just being secretly looked at and dearly cherished.” Both Ethel and her flag survived the war.

In occupied Manila, on that same 4th of July, Gladys Savary wrote about the day in her diary: “The Glorious Fourth–and I don’t dare hang out the American flag, but I have been admiring it all day, hung up in the bathroom.”

As the wife of a French citizen, American Gladys was exempted from internment, and she spent a lot of her time finding ways to help those inside Santo Tomas. “Can’t be much of a celebration, with nearly all Americans locked up. I am sure they are happy in the camp, what with the good news in the air. I’ve had several smuggled notes from camp and while the morale is good, they are getting increasingly hungry.”

Good morale could only do so much, though. These Americans would wait another seven months for liberation.