Dr. Mary Walker Wednesday: Finale

It has been wonderful spending these past Wednesdays introducing you to Mary Walker. I hope you found the teasers enticing enough to read the book.

Epilogue: The Medal of Honor Restored

A somebody in her lifetime, Mary Walker was not forgotten after she died.

Photo of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker wearing her Medal of Honor

(public domain)

Though Mary Walker was stripped of her Medal of Honor (along with many others), she refused to acknowledge that and continued to wear the decoration throughout her life. Not long after she died, a quiet campaign began to have the medal restored. In the Epilogue, I show how timing was instrumental to that success.

I’ll resume this blog feature for my forthcoming biography of Dale Evans. It will re-emerge as Queen of the West Wednesdays. (I’ll let you know when it’s time to saddle up!)

Until then, I’ll continue posting about other interesting women in American history and about my reading adventures.

Stay safe and stay well.

 

Dr. Mary Walker Wednesday #10

We’ve reached the penultimate chapter of Dr. Mary Walker’s Civil War. The book launches on Monday, June 1, and that is the day I will post the first line of the final chapter. Wednesday, June 3 will be the last Walker Wednesday, and it will cover the Epilogue.

Chapter Ten: Outcast and Erased

In the great divide of the women’s suffrage movement, Mary Walker took her own path.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony published The Revolution, a weekly women’s rights newspaper, from 1868-1872. Mary Walker did not always get along with the two women, but she certainly agreed with their paper’s slogan: “Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.”

Stay safe and stay healthy.

 

 

Guest Post: Nancy B. Kennedy on Frances Willard

I am happy to welcome author Nancy B. Kennedy to the blog today. We share an interest in the women’s suffrage movement, and Nancy recently published a book for young readers called Women Win the Vote! It focuses on nineteen people involved in the passage of the 19th Amendment, so I thought she would be the perfect person to talk to about other women’s rights supporters of Dr. Mary Walker’s time. Here’s what Nancy had to say:

Would you think it frivolous if I talked about the fashion choices of the American suffragists? Well, a hundred and more years ago, clothing wasn’t a simple matter of personal style and taste. It was serious business that proscribed much about a woman’s life.

My friend Theresa Kaminski has written a book about Dr. Mary Walker, a Civil War surgeon who had a lot to say about clothing. In my book about the suffragists, Women Win the Vote! 19 for the 19th Amendment, I also had occasion to address women’s clothing.

In the time period we write about, women’s clothing was heavy and restrictive: petticoats and corsets, multi-layered bodices with long sleeves and high collars, heavy skirts that swept down to the floors. Women couldn’t even get a break at the beach, where they had to wear woolen stockings even to dip a toe in the water.

Fierce fashion from 19th century Puerto Rico | National Museum of ...

(Smithsonian)

Theresa’s Mary Walker (1832-1919) wore men’s clothing because of its comfort and appropriateness for her work as a doctor. In her time, women could be arrested for wearing men’s clothing, yet she persisted!

From the same time period, I write about Frances Willard (1839-1898), a suffragist and president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Hearing these credentials, you might think she was a battle-axe with strict rules for women’s lives. In fact, she was one of the most relaxed and relatable suffragists I encountered.

Frances Willard at 23

(Willard at 23, FrancesWillardHouse.org)

In her memoir, Frances Willard despairs over her 16th birthday — the day she calls her martyrdom. On that day, she had to abandon her child’s loose dresses and sturdy shoes and adopt the attire of a woman. To the petticoats, corsets and long skirts, she had to add ribboned bonnets and gloves. She had to grow out and pin up her hair — it took eighteen hairpins, she tells us.

Frances bemoans the restrictions that clothing imposed on women. She lists the articles of clothing women had to don just to go for a walk — a list so onerous that women rarely bothered. Some suffragists did try the so-called “bloomer costume,” a short dress worn over loose trousers, but they were so relentlessly ridiculed that they gave it up, fearing the controversy would hurt the suffrage cause.

Kean Collection / Getty Images

(Kean Collection)

Frances not only wanted freedom of movement, but also educational and financial freedom. “Girls should definitely be set at work after their school days end, even as boys are, to learn some bread-winning employment that will give them an independent status,” she wrote. She knew that dress reform would enable women to move comfortably in a world that until then had been organized around men.

Even when talking about the vote, Frances’s thoughts went to clothing. If women had the vote, she opined, they could enter politics as men did, “clad in the garments of power!”

Willard in the 1890s

(Willard in the 1890s, FrancesWillardHouse,org)

In her 50s, Frances learned how to ride a bicycle, an activity that was thought unseemly and unhealthy for women. On a bike, she could shed some of her hated clothing and whiz through the world as never before. She wrote a book about her experience, A Wheel Within a Wheel, that became a bestseller. Clearly, many women wanted freedoms that had long been denied them.

Frances Willard riding her bicycle, Gladys

(Willard on her bicycle, Gladys; FrancesWillardHouse.org)

Now back to Dr. Mary Walker. She persisted in wearing men’s clothing, even clapping top hats on her head. Unfortunately, suffragists weren’t happy about her choices, again fearing that their cause would be hurt by the outliers. Victoria Woodhull came under the same censure — her bohemian dress and unrestrained lifestyle caused a huge rift in the suffrage movement.

But as you follow the suffrage cause into the 1900s, you see hemlines inching upward. Petticoats  and corsets disappear — at least on the younger generation — dresses become loose and flowing, and feet are shod in more comfortable shoes that allowed women to march in suffrage parades and protests. Women, and therefore their causes, became visible to the world.

So you see, clothing was more than a matter of fashion — it was no less a matter than women claiming their place in the public and political life of our country.

Thanks to Nancy for this insight on fashion and suffrage. You can find out more about Nancy and her work on her website.

Dr. Mary Walker Wednesday #9

A big thank you to everyone who has been dropping by every week to read these teasers, and some have been kind enough to leave messages about how much they are looking forward to reading the book. Dr. Mary Walker’s Civil War launches on June 1. If you follow me on Facebook and/or belong to the Nonfiction Fans group there, you will start seeing more book promotion activity. Preorders are still important to raise the book’s visibility. You can do that through Bookshop and help local bookstores in the process!

Now, on to the main event.

Chapter Nine: Women’s Rights During Radical Reconstruction

Although Mary Walker proudly wore her Medal of Honor, she understood the award allowed the government to recognize her achievements without giving her the retroactive commission she desired.

Dr. Mary E. Walker wore her Medal of Honor around her neck for the rest of her life. (National Archives photo)

(National Archives)

This is my favorite photo of Walker. It captures her intensity and dedication; it signals her commitment to learning.

This was also one of my favorite chapters to research and write. Dr. Walker’s fight shifted from helping to save the Union to securing voting rights for women. Though it is easy to cheer her on for that, her views on race were not as laudable. You will be able to read more about that in Chapter Nine.

 

Women’s History Month 2020

This year’s Women’s History Month theme marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

valiant women

It’s also known as the women’s suffrage amendment, but every time I describe it that way, I like to clarify that though the amendment was supposed to apply to women–as in all adult women–in reality, racial discrimination prevented most women of color from voting. Many early histories of the women’s suffrage movement sideline these racial issues, barely acknowledging the contributions, for example, of African American women in cultivating support for the amendment.

Historian Cathleen Cahill has a book coming out this fall called Recasting the Vote: How Women of Color Transformed the Suffrage Movement. According to the book description: “It is a collective biography of six suffragists–Yankton Dakota Sioux author and activist Gertrude Bonnin (Zitkala-Ša); Wisconsin Oneida writer Laura Cornelius Kellogg; Turtle Mountain Chippewa and French lawyer Marie Bottineau Baldwin; African American poet and clubwoman Carrie Williams Clifford; Mabel Ping Hau Lee, the first Chinese woman in the United States to earn her PhD ; and New Mexican Hispana politician and writer Nina Otero Warren–both before and after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.” This looks fascinating.

While you wait for Cahill’s book, consider picking up a copy of Rosalyn Terborg-Penn’s classic African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920.

Image result for rosalyn terborg-penn african american women and the struggle to vote

You’ll meet lots of great women in this book, too, and won’t soon forget them.