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The Remarkable Dr. Mary

Mary Edwards Walker was born in 1832 in Oswego, New York. In 1855 she received her M.D. from Syracuse Medical College. She was the only female surgeon to serve in the Civil War and was captured by Confederate soldiers in April of 1864. She was held prisoner in Richmond, Virginia, for 4 months and was finally released in August that same year. Dr. Mary was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for her services. Her Medal of Honor was revoked in June of 1916 along with others by an Act of Congress. The Medals were not awarded with the requirements listed in Section 122, which requires those who receive Medal of Honors for distinguished conduct to be involved in actual conflict with the enemy. Her Medal was re-instated posthumously in 1977.

Dr. Mary, as she liked to be called, was also a strong advocate for women’s dress reform. She began wearing bloomers during the Civil War and after the War began wearing “men’s clothing” – trousers and Prince Albert jackets, accompanied by short hair and sometimes a top hat. In the late 1860s, she toured the United Kingdom lecturing on the physiological reasons women ought to shun their traditional dress and begin wearing trousers. She caused quite a sensation. In 1874 Congress granted her a pension, and from 1882 to 1883 she served as a clerk in the Department of Pensions. In her old age, Dr. Mary moved back to the small town of Oswego, where she lived alone and was often seen wearing denim overalls and a shabby hat, driving her horse-drawn wagon through town. She died in 1919 after a rather lengthy illness.

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