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March 29, 2024

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker’s Pocket Surgical Kit, ca. 1864

Pocket surgical kit which belonged to Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the first female assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army, circa 1864. Photographed by V.R. Kikel. Date: (kit) circa 1864; (photo) circa 1995.

(Photo via National Museum of Health and Medicine)

Dr. Walker was the first female surgeon in the U.S. Army, serving during the Civil War. She was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1865 by President Johnson, and remains the only woman to have ever won it, to this date. Interestingly, this high honor was awarded to her (and even had a bill passed in order to make her eligible) in order to recognize her service to the country… while making sure that she didn’t receive an army commission in retirement.

Indeed, she made less as a pensioner than the widows of most officers did, but she saw the greater honor of her Medal, wearing it every day until her death in 1917.

Walker also campaigned as an abolitionist (prior to the war), prohibitionist, and an advocate for dress reform, citing women’s clothing as “immodest and unwieldy.” She was arrested several times in the late 1800s for “impersonating a man,” because of her trousers and top hat.

1 comment:

  1. Mary Edwards Walker's philosophy is captured in Destiny's Daughter just published by Apprentice House Press. She was a Civil War soldier, surgeon and suffragist who urged women to think for themselves, recognize self worth and wear sturdy shoes.




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