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'''Mary Edwards Walker''' (November 26, 1832 - February 21, 1919),
commonly referred to as '''Dr. Mary Walker''', was an American
prisoner of war and Civil War surgeon. She was the first
and only woman to ever receive the Medal of Honor.
In 1855, she earned her medical degree at Syracuse Medical College in New York, married and started a medical practice. She volunteered with the Union Army at the outbreak of the American Civil War and served as a surgeon at a temporary hospital in Washington, DC, even though at the time women and sectarian physicians were considered unfit for the Union Army Examining Board. She was captured by Confederate forces after crossing enemy lines to treat wounded civilians and arrested as a spy. She was sent as a prisoner of war to Richmond, Virginia, until released in a prisoner exchange.
After the war, she was approved for the highest United States Armed Forces decoration for bravery, the Medal of Honor, for her efforts during the Civil War. She is the only woman to receive the medal and one of only eight civilians to receive it. Her name was deleted from the Army Medal of Honor Roll in 1917 (along with over 900 others); however, it was restored in 1977. After the war, she was a writer and lecturer supporting the women's suffrage movement until her death in 1919.
Inspired by her parents' novel standard of dressing for health purposes, Walker was infamous for contesting traditional female wardrobe. In 1871, she wrote, "The greatest sorrows from which women suffer to-day are those physical, moral, and mental ones, that are caused by their unhygienic manner of dressing!" She strongly opposed women's long skirts with numerous petticoats, not only for their discomfort and their inhibition to the wearer's mobility but for their collection and spread of dust and dirt. As a young woman, she began experimenting with various skirt-lengths and layers, all with men's trousers underneath. By 1861, her typical ensemble included trousers with suspenders under a knee-length dress with a tight waist and full skirt.
While encouraged by her family, Walker's wardrobe choices were often met with criticism. Once, a schoolteacher, she was assaulted on her way home by a neighboring farmer and a group of boys, who chased her and attacked her with eggs and other missiles. Female colleagues in medical school criticized her choices, and patients often gawked at her and teased her. She nevertheless persisted in her mission to reform women's dress. Her view that women's dress should "protect the person, and allow freedom of motion and circulation, and not make the wearer a slave to it" made her commitment to dress reform as great as her zeal for abolitionism. She famously wrote to the women's journal, ''The Sibyl: A Review of the Tastes, Errors, and Fashions of Society'', about her campaign against women's fashion, amongst other things, for its injuries to health, its expense, and its contribution to the dissolution of marriages. Her literature contributed to the spread of her ideas, and made her a popular figure amongst other feminists and female physicians.
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