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Walker, Mary Edwards (1832-1919) Women’s Rights activist, Doctor, Nurse, Dress Reformer and Eccentric
Autograph Note Signed, Washington, D.C., April 24, 1898, to an unidentified recipient, on the Spanish American War Crisis

octavo, 1 page, in pencil, some toning to paper, formerly folded, else in good legible condition.

“Dear Sir –

Loose no time in bringing influence to bear on the President to cease hostilities until Arbitration is effected.  

The Spanish ministry desired to so negociate [sic] before leaving Washington and I can testify that this is a fact, and that the offer was so made.

Yours in haste

Mary E. Walker M.D.”

 

Mary Walker was born November 26, 1832, in Oswego, New York. Her early education took place at the Falley Seminary in Fulton, New York. She graduated from Syracuse Medical College graduating with a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1855. Thereafter she moved to Columbus, Ohio, where she started a private practice. Returning to her home state not long after, Walker married fellow physician Albert Miller, and the couple moved to Rome, New York.

Soon after the Civil War began in 1861, Walker began volunteering as a nurse working early on at the Patent Office Hospital in Washington, D.C. She took a break from volunteering her services in 1862 to earn a degree from the New York Hygeio-Therapeutic College in New York City, but soon returned to the war effort. This time, she worked on the battlefield, in tent hospitals in Warrenton and Fredericksburg, Virginia. In the autumn of 1863, Walker traveled to Tennessee, where she was appointed assistant surgeon in the Army of the Cumberland by General George H. Thomas, one of the principal commanders in the Civil War’s Western Theater.

In April 1864, Walker was captured and imprisoned by the Confederate Army. She was released that August, after being held in Richmond, Virginia, for several months. Following her release, Walker briefly returned to Washington, D.C. In the autumn of 1864, she received a contract as an “acting assistant surgeon” with the 52nd Ohio Infantry, and soon began supervising a hospital for women prisoners and then an orphanage.

Walker retired from government service in June 1865. Later that year, in recognition of her courageous war efforts, she was awarded the Medal of Honor for Meritorious Service – becoming the first woman to receive the honor. Over a century later, Mary Walker remains the only female Medal of Honor recipient.

After the Civil War, Walker lectured on such issues as dress reform and women’s suffrage, but did not support a proposed suffrage amendment, contending that the right to vote was already contained in the Constitution.

In an unfortunate turn of events, in 1917, the U.S. government changed the criteria for the Medal of Honor and withdrew Walker’s medal, though she continued to wear it thereafter. She died two years later, on February 21, 1919, in Oswego, New York. Nearly 60 years after her death, in 1977, Mary Walker’s Medal of Honor was posthumously restored by President Jimmy Carter.

 

Walker’s letters, as well as her autograph, are relatively scarce.

 

Notable American Women, volume 3, pp., 532-533