Mary Edwards Walker painting by Rob Schamberger © 2017 Rob. All rights reserved.

Mary Edwards Walker

Mary Edwards Walker
Ink and watercolor on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper
The latest addition to the ‘She Changed the World’ collection!

As of 2017 Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919) is the only woman ever to receive the Medal of Honor. Born on a farm in Oswego, NY Walker was raised to be an equal to men, an outrageous idea for that time. Her parents founded their own free school so that Mary and her sisters could receive the same quality of education as the boys. Walker also resisted wearing traditional female clothing, feeling the restrictive garments held her back from performing chores on the farm and were also hazardous to her health. After working as a teacher she saved her money to put herself through Syracuse Medical College, where she graduated with honors as a medical doctor in 1855, the only woman in her class.

At the beginning of the Civil War she volunteered for the Union Army as a civilian, as the army had no female surgeons. She served as a field surgeon near the front lines during battles such as Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Chickamauga. She was eventually officially hired by the US Army Surgeon, making her the first female to be employed by that office. On April 10, 1864 she was captured by Confederate troops and arrested as a spy, after having ventured into their territory to offer humanitarian aid and completed a surgery on a Confederate officer. She was freed two days later in a prisoner exchange.

On November 11, 1865 she was awarded the Medal of Honor by Andrew Johnson for her bravery to enter enemy territory to care for the suffering inhabitants when no man was willing to do the same. She spent the rest of her life fighting for women’s right to vote, attending numerous suffrage conventions and testifying before Congress on the matter. In 1917 the Army revoked her Medal of Honor and demanded that she return it. In defiance she wore the medal every day until her passing in 1919. She wore a suit instead of a dress for burial. The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed a year later, granting women the right to vote. President Carter posthumously restored her medal in 1977.

She has been featured on a US postage stamp and has had numerous military bases, hospitals, clinics and homeless shelters named in her honor. I wish I’d researched her a little more before painting this, because I definitely would have had her in a suit. Next time around!