The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

Parents’ Roles

Who was Mary Edwards Walker?

She was, quite possibly, the most eccentric person of a time that embraced eccentricity on many levels. Born on a farm in upstate New York in 1832, Mary Walker was the first female to earn a medical degree from Syracuse Medical College, in 1855. Though she soon married a classmate, she omitted the words “to honor and obey” from the ceremony, and she wore clothing that was an interesting mixture of male and female for the rest of her life (they divorced after fourteen years of marriage, including nine years of separation). When the war began, Mary Walker applied to the surgeon general for a medical commission; when this was refused, she acted in an unofficial capacity. She did heroic surgical work after the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chickamauga and finally won a civilian surgeon contract, issued by Major-General George Thomas. She may have performed other services, such as acting as a spy for Thomas, but no confirmation is available.


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