Women’s History Month
Only One Woman Has Ever Received the Medal of Honor
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, US Civil War Surgeon and suffragist
Isn’t it amazing that only one woman has ever been awarded the Medal of Honor? This woman was quite a character and a true non-conformist, especially for her time. She advocated for women’s rights and served her country as a doctor, war-time surgeon and women’s advocate.
She created quite a stir and was often surrounded by controversy. But she stood her ground for what she believed in.
Who was Mary Edwards Walker?
Mary Walker was born in 1832 and raised in Oswego, NY by parents who taught her and her six siblings to ask questions and think for themselves. On the family farm she often wore trousers and shirts because they were more comfortable and allowed greater freedom of movement than accepted women’s clothing.
Her father was a self-taught doctor, and she became interested in his profession. She earned her medical degree at Syracuse Medical College, one of the few to admit women, and she was only the second woman to earn the degree. After graduating in 1855, she married Albert Miller and they set up practice together.
The practice failed, possibly because many people refused to allow a woman to treat them. The couple did not remain married long. She retained her maiden name and wore an unorthodox wedding dress. Her husband did not approve.
What is the Medal of Honor?
The Medal of Honor is the US’s highest military honor awarded for valor. It recognizes the recipient who:
“…distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
(from the US Congressional Medal of Honor Society website, www.cmohs.org)
The award is given for acts of bravery under fire. These acts must go above and beyond the call of duty and be performed during a conflict. Originally, only enlisted seamen and marines were eligible to receive the Navy Medal of Honor.