Dr. Mary Edwards Walker Collection

Cover Image:
Dr. Mary Walker posed photograph

Collection Facts

Dates of Original:

Historical Context

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker is the only woman to hold a Medal of Honor to this day, awarded for her work as a surgeon during the Civil War.

Timeline of her life:
1832 - Mary Edwards Walker was born November 26 at the family farm on Bunker Hill Road, in the Town of Oswego, just west of the City of Oswego. Her parents were abolitionists Alvah and Vesta Whitcomb Walker. She had four sisters: Aurora, Luna, Vesta, Cynthia, and one brother, Alvah Jr. As a child, her father encouraged his daughters to forgo corsets and wear pants under a short skirt for health reasons. She continued through her life to dress this way, and advocated for dress reform. In her later years, she dressed exclusively in pants and a jacket.

1850-51 - Attended Falley Seminar in Fulton, New York.

1851-52 - Taught school in Minetto, New York.

1853 - Entered Central Medical College, Syracuse, New York.

1855 - Graduated from Medical College as the second woman in the United States to become a medical doctor. Elizabeth Blackwell (Geneva, New York) was the first. Also, this year she opened a practice in Columbus, Ohio, which lasted but a few months.

1856 - Dr. Mary Walker married Dr. Albert Miller, who had been a fellow student at Central Medical College, and they each opened a practice in Rome, New York. She kept her own name and adjusted the vows to eliminate the word “obey.”

1859 - The marriage was in effect terminated when Dr. Mary Walker ordered her husband out of the house, charging him with unfaithfulness though it was to take another ten years for the divorce to become final.

1861 - Traveled to Washington, D.C. to volunteer her service in the hospitals during the early months of the Civil War. She was not allowed to serve as a medical officer because she was a woman but she could serve as an unpaid volunteer nurse and then acting assistant surgeon at the U.S. Patent Office Hospital in Washington. She organized the Women's Relief Organization that helped families of the wounded who came to visit their loved ones at the hospital.

1862 – In January, she went to New York City where she attended the Hygeia Therapeutic College for a semester and earned a second medical diploma.

1862 – Dr. Walker moved to Virginia and started treating wounded soldiers near the front lines. She also wrote to the War Department in September of that year requesting to become a spy, but she was rejected.

1863 - Her request to practice as a surgeon was finally accepted. She became the first female U.S. Army surgeon as a "Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian)" in Ohio.

1864 - After taking a wrong turn on the battlefields, Dr. Walker was taken prisoner by the Confederate forces and was taken to Castle Thunder prison in Richmond, Virginia. Four months later she obtained her freedom in a prisoner exchange.

1865 - Dr. Walker was the first woman awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, based on her many acts of bravery and heroism on the battlefield of the Civil War.

1866 – She traveled widely throughout England and France and gave many lectures tomostly receptive audiences about her war experiences, women’s suffrage, and dress reform.

1868 – She traveled extensively throughout the United States on lecture tours. She was not as enthusiastically received as she had been in Europe and her lectures were not great money makers.

1870 – Dr. Walker was arrested in New Orleans because she was dressed like a man. Walker defended herself by saying, "I don't wear men's clothes, I wear my own clothes."

1871 - Her book, HIT, was published. Also, in November she attempted to vote in the Town of Oswego as an act of protest, but was turned away.

1870s – Dr. Walker spent much of the decade lobbying in Washington, D.C. for suffrage and other causes.

1878 - Her second book, Unmasked: The Science of Immorality, was published.

1882 - She sought federal employment and was finally awarded a job as clerk in the Pensions Office of the Department of Interior. Friction developed and the job lasted less than two years.

1888-92 - Economic circumstances necessitated her lecture assignments at various dime museums throughout the Northeast. These were not much more than carnival sideshows.

1907 – Crowning Constitutional Argument was published. This was the most comprehensive statement of Dr. Mary Walker’s approach to suffrage. Walker received a new version of her medal of honor; she kept both but continued to wear the original
every day.

1917 – She announced a plan to end World War 1 by inviting the German Emperor to her Bunker Hill farm for negotiations and compromise.

1917 – Her Medal of Honor was revoked when Congress reevaluated eligibility.

1919 - Dr. Mary E. Walker died on February 21, at the age of 87 years, in the Town of Oswego. Her final resting spot is the Rural Cemetery in the Town of Oswego.

1977 – Dr. Mary Walker’s Medal of Honor was restored by President Jimmy Carter after much effort by her grand-niece Helen Hay Wilson, member of the Oswego Community, and advocates around the country.

2000 – Dr. Mary Edwards Walker was inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame at Seneca Falls, New York.

2012 - A statue of Walker was placed in front of the Oswego Town Hall.

Scope of Collection

The Dr. Mary E. Walker Collection includes correspondence from Dr. Mary Walker and her family, friends, and colleagues; it also includes newspaper clippings both during and following her death in 1919 regarding her life, achievements, and fights both in the Civil War and beyond. This collection also includes a section dedicated to Helen Hay Wilson; a descendant of Dr. Mary Walker who worked to get her Medal of Honor reinstated posthumously. The collection serves as a highlight for how truly forward-thinking and progressive Dr. Mary Walker was during her time, and marks her importance to the Oswego community and beyond.