Happy Birthday to Dr. Mary Walker

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the only female recipient of the Medal of Honor, was born on November 26, 1832, in Oswego, New York.

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker was born in the town of Oswego in 1832. She served as a surgeon in the Civil War before being captured crossing enemy lines to treat wounded civilians. She was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for her valor; the only woman in history to receive the distinction. She devoted her life to social causes, becoming a prominent writer and lecturer and advocating for the abolition of slavery as well as promoting women's suffrage and dress reform. Image courtesy of the Matthew Brady Collection of Civil War Photographs in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.(National Archives)

She grew up believing in abolition and women’s rights. During a time when most medical schools refused to admit women, Mary Walker found one that did–the Syracuse Medical College–and graduated in 1855.

In 1861, not long after the start of the Civil War, Dr. Walker shuttered her private practice in Rome, New York, and traveled to Washington, D.C., where she requested a commission as an assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army. Denied because of her gender, Walker volunteered, working at hospitals in the capital city as well as in the field. In 1865, President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor for her services as a physician during the war.

Mary Walker was a controversial figure. Not only had she chosen a “man’s profession,” she also adopted reform dress. Commonly known as the Bloomer costume, Dr. Walker wore trousers under a shortened skirt. She was arrested several times for wearing “men’s clothing” in public yet she never gave up her bloomers. It was a woman’s right, she believed, to wear what she wanted and to do the kind of work she wanted.

A prolific writer and public speaker, Dr. Mary Walker campaigned for women’s voting rights after the Civil War. She died in 1919, the year before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.

The details of her extraordinary life can be found in my forthcoming book, Dr. Mary Walker’s Civil War, available for preorder now.

 

 

Women’s History Month 2019

Since March 1 rarely brings any indication that spring is on the way, the ultimate consolation prize is that it’s always the beginning of Women’s History Month.

Image result for snow in wisconsin 2019

I also think of it as What I Do For a Living Month. My academic career focused on women’s history as does my current writing career. Right now I’m four chapters into a book on Dr. Mary Walker, the only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

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

Dr. Walker was a dress reformer (notice she’s wearing trousers), temperance advocate, abolitionist, suffragist, and pacifist. As such, she fits squarely within this year’s theme for Women’s History Month:

Mary Walker had a grand vision of a world in which everyone was equal. Throughout March, I’ll be posting compelling images that reflect the concerns of visionary American women like Mary Walker. Next up, a commentary on the suffrage struggle.

 

 

Honoring Servicewomen on Memorial Day

American women became a permanent part of the U.S. military in 1948 when President Harry Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. Prior to that, when the country was not at war, women could only serve in the Army or Navy nurse corps. During both world wars, however, the various branches of the military recruited women for non-combat service.

This didn’t keep servicewomen safe during wartime. In World War II, over 540 women died while on duty. Though most of those deaths were from accidents and illness, at least 16 of them were the result of enemy actions.

Twenty-four-year old 2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth was one of six nurses killed during the battle of Anzio.

(Ainsworth, on duty in Italy, is second from right.)

A member of the Army Nurse Corps working with the 56th Evacuation Hospital, Ainsworth was in Anzio, on the west coast of Italy, in early 1944. The Allies were still trying to wrest the country from the Germans, who put up bitter resistance.

On February 10, 1944, Ainsworth was working in a tent hospital on one of the beachheads the Allies had established. German plans bombed and strafed the area. Disregarding her own safety, Ainsworth stayed with her patients. A piece of shrapnel hit her in the chest, and she died six days later. For her bravery, Ainsworth posthumously received the Silver Star. She is buried in Italy.

2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth is one of many servicewomen who deserve to be remembered and honored on Memorial Day.

[This post originally went up for Memorial Day 2016.]

 

Honoring Servicewomen on Memorial Day

American women became a permanent part of the U.S. military in 1948 when President Harry Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. Prior to that, when the country was not at war, women could only serve in the Army or Navy nurse corps. During both world wars, however, the various branches of the military recruited women for non-combat service.

This didn’t keep servicewomen safe during wartime. In World War II, over 540 women died while on duty. Though most of those deaths were from accidents and illness, at least 16 of them were the result of enemy actions.

Twenty-four-year old 2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth was one of six nurses killed during the battle of Anzio.

(Ainsworth, on duty in Italy, is second from right.)

A member of the Army Nurse Corps working with the 56th Evacuation Hospital, Ainsworth was in Anzio, on the west coast of Italy, in early 1944. The Allies were still trying to wrest the country from the Germans, who put up bitter resistance.

On February 10, 1944, Ainsworth was working in a tent hospital on one of the beachheads the Allies had established. German plans bombed and strafed the area. Disregarding her own safety, Ainsworth stayed with her patients. A piece of shrapnel hit her in the chest, and she died six days later. For her bravery, Ainsworth posthumously received the Silver Star. She is buried in Italy.

2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth is one of many servicewomen who deserve to be remembered and honored on Memorial Day.