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Profile of the Day: Mary Edwards Walker

On this day in 1832, abolitionist and surgeon Mary Edwards Walker was born. Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor for her efforts to treat the wounded during the American Civil War. Today, she remains the only woman to receive the honor.

Profile of the Day: Mary Edwards Walker

Image: Mary Edwards Walker / U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Walker was born on November 26, 1832 in Oswego, New York to Alvah Walker and Vesta Whitcomb. From a young age, Walker’s parents encouraged her to “think freely” and pursue an education. In 1855, she graduated from Syracuse Medical College as a medical doctor and became one of the few women physicians in the country.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Walker wanted to join the Army as a surgeon, but was rejected because she was a woman. Instead of working as a nurse, Walker chose to volunteer as a surgeon for the Union Army as a civilian. Not one to conform to tradition, she dressed in men’s clothing while doing her work. During the war, she helped tend to the wounded on the front lines, sometimes crossing battle lines to treat soldiers. On April 10, 1864, Walker was captured by Confederate troops and arrested as a spy after helping a Confederate doctor perform an amputation. She was held as a prisoner-of-war for 4 months until she was released in a prisoner exchange.

In 1865, Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor for her service during the war, becoming the only woman to ever be given the honor. After the war, Walker became a writer and lectured in support of women’s suffrage and dress reform for women. She died on February 21, 1919 at the age of 86.

Explore Mary Edwards Walker’s family tree on Geni and share how you’re connected!

View Mary Edwards Walker’s Geni Profile


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