because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mary Walker

Born in Oswego, New York, in 1832, Mary Walker grew up on a farm, spent a few years as a teacher and then graduated from medical school in time to offer to be a battlefield surgeon during the Civil War. Unfortunately, women doctors weren't taken very seriously at the time, so her initial practice, which she set up with her husband -- also a doctor -- didn't build the way it would have if she'd been a man, and the U.S. Army would only hire her as a civilian nurse.

Eventually, of course, as the war progressed and needs became more crucial, the Army made her an Assistant Surgeon, after which she traveled back and forth across the front lines to treat civilians caught in the cross fire. Her freedom of access got her arrested as a spy by the Confederate forces in 1864, but she was released in a prisoner exchange. And her service to her country resulted in her being awarded the Medal of Honor.

Subsequent stints as the supervisor of a women's prison and a children's orphanage suggest that she worked her way up some kind of ladder, but Walker had one idiosyncrasy that caused her continued problems. She insisted on wearing clothing usually reserved for men, including a top hat. When she became well known in the women's suffrage movement, her commitment to her clothing choice marginalized her greatly and she was, in fact, arrested on several occasions for "impersonating a man." In-your-face women don't see why they shouldn't become what they want to become, serve where and how they want to serve (or not), and wear exactly what they want to wear. Seems reasonable.

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