Her progressive beliefs that women should be able to wear comfortable clothes, go to college, become doctors, vote, and not be treated as property were engendered by her parents who held the same academic expectations for her as her brothers. Small in stature, her passion for justice made her popular with the people she helped but a laughingstock with the newspapers.
During the Civil War, Mary worked tirelessly as an unpaid
surgeon on the battlefield with dying soldiers, blocking other surgeons from
amputating arms and legs when there were alternatives. Mary wore trousers
underneath a knee-length skirt because it made her work easier. She went to
extreme lengths to help her patients, even traveling into enemy territory to
carry a message to a dying patient’s family. She was captured by the
Confederate army for being a spy and sent to Castle Thunder.
If Mary had one fault, it was her lack of being a team player. Although the right to vote became a new passion after the war, she was often at odds with Susan B. Anthony and the larger suffrage movement because Mary insisted the U.S. Constitution had already given women the right to vote and only needed enactment by Congress. Because of her strong views, she was blocked from suffrage meetings.
Nothing came easy to the
doctor. She was awarded the Medal of Honor, then it was taken away from her
because she wasn’t an officer or an enlisted man when she served on the battlefield.
However, Walker felt that she had been awarded the Medal
of Honor by President Johnson because she had gone into enemy territory to care
for the suffering inhabitants, when no man had the courage to do so, for fear
of being imprisoned. President Carter’s administration posthumously reinstated