A WOman Before Her Time

Veteran: Mary Edwards Walker
Artist: Michael Koulermos
Writer: Inge Pudlowski

“You [men] are not our protectors… if you were, who would there be to protect us from?”

Strong words, perhaps. But to Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, they reflected the struggles she faced as she fought for the recognition she deserved.

Born in 1832, Mary’s father believed his daughters deserved an education and should pursue professional careers. Mary eventually enrolled in Syracuse Medical College and became one of the nation’s first female doctors.

When the Civil War broke out, Mary attempted to join the Union Army. Even though she was denied a commission as a medical officer, she volunteered and provided medical care to wounded soldiers. In 1864, she was captured by the Confederate Army and held for four months, eventually exchanged for a Confederate POW.

In 1865, Mary became the first (and, as of 2016, the ONLY) woman awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor — this country’s highest military award.  Decades later, it was stripped away when Congress declared that only those who engaged in “actual combat with an enemy” were eligible for this distinctive recognition. She refused to return the medal and wore it with pride until the day she died. The honor was finally reinstated in 1977, as President Jimmy Carter cited Mary’s “distinguished gallantry, self-sacrifice, patriotism, dedication and unflinching loyalty to her country.”