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The Only Woman to be Awarded the Medal of Honor

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
July 28, 2023 3:00 am

The Only Woman to be Awarded the Medal of Honor

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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July 28, 2023 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, The History Guy remembers a truly extraordinary Civil War heroine, Mary Edwards Walker. She was the only woman in U.S. history to be awarded the Medal of Honor. 

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Say free this week into your Xfinity voice remote. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, a show where America is the star and the American people. And a very special welcome to the folks in Portland listening on KEX. We're proud to have you as a member of the Our American Stories family. Our next story comes to us from a man who's simply known as the History Guy.

His videos are watched by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages on YouTube. The History Guy is also heard here at Our American Stories. Today, the History Guy remembers a truly extraordinary Civil War heroine, Mary Edwards Walker. She was the only woman in United States history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Here's the History Guy. The Medal of Honor, the United States' highest award for valor, was established by the United States Army in 1862 to recognize those soldiers who distinguished themselves by gallantry and intrepidity in combat with an enemy of the United States. Since that time, 3,459 Medals of Honor have been awarded, and only one has gone to a woman, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker. And hers is a story worth remembering. Mary Edwards Walker was born in 1832 in upstate New York, the youngest of seven children. Her parents were farmers and free thinkers.

The Free Thought Movement was a movement that challenged authority and tradition, and thought that truth should be derived from logic and reason. And it was that upbringing that not only allowed her to escape traditional gender roles of her time, but to develop a fierce sense of independence and justice. Mary's parents were determined to give all of their children a good education, and she studied at Valley Seminary in Fulton, New York. She always had an interest in physiology and anatomy, and so she worked as a teacher in order to earn enough money to be able to attend medical school, graduating with honors from Syracuse Medical College in 1855, the only woman in her class. She struggled, though, to build a successful practice, as female doctors were very rare in that time, and often not trusted. When the war started, she volunteered with the Union Army, seeking a commission as a field surgeon. But the Union Army didn't hire female surgeons, and so she was only allowed to serve as a nurse, which is how she served after the Battle of First Bull Run. She then started volunteering her services as a field surgeon, and treated soldiers after the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chickamauga. But finally, in 1863, she was hired as a contracting acting assistant surgeon, the first female surgeon in the Union Army, with the pay of a lieutenant, although she was still a civilian. She didn't much care about rules or the enemy lines, she would go where she needed to go to treat people, and she would frequently travel behind enemy lines to treat civilians in need, say to deliver a baby or treat someone that was sick, and that's what she was doing in April of 1864 when she was captured and arrested by the Confederate Army as a spy. She was held as a prisoner of war until August of that year when she was finally exchanged. She continued in federal service and was made acting assistant surgeon to Ohio's 52nd Infantry Regiment. She also managed a hospital for female prisoners and later managed an orphanage. She was recommended for the Medal of Honor by General William Tecunseh Sherman and General George Henry Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga. There's no record of the original nomination, but when the medal was awarded by President Andrew Johnson in 1865, it commended her because she dedicated herself with patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded soldiers, both in the field and in the hospital, to the detriment of her own health.

She always said that she got the award because she was the only doctor brave enough to go behind enemy lines to treat people. Throughout her life, she showed the independent thought of her upbringing, and one of her great causes was dress reform. She believed that women's fashion of the day was injurious to health. She complained that corsets were restricting and that large skirts with multiple petticoats were not only uncomfortable and restricting, but they also collected dust and dirt. She wrote two books on the subject of dress reform, complaining that women's fashion was not just dangerous to the health, but also expensive. She would often dress in a mid-length skirt and men's trousers, which she felt was much more practical and protected the woman's modesty. But later in life, she would often give speeches in full men's formal dress attire.

She said, I don't wear men's clothes, I wear my own clothes. While she was passionate about that cause, it was one of many. She was also part of the temperance movement. She was an abolitionist and she was a suffragette, and she testified before Congress several times on the issue of women's suffrage.

In 1917, the Army did a review of their Medal of Honor rolls and removed 911 names, including Mary Edwards Walker. The reason they revoked her medal was that she was actually a civilian at the time and that her deeds were not in combat, but her medal was returned posthumously by Jimmy Carter in 1977. In her life, she had so many causes. For example, during the war she realized that there were lots of women who were coming to Washington, D.C. to visit injured soldiers, brothers, her husbands. And so she started a society to help women who were visiting the Capitol find a safe place to stay and to find their loved ones in all the many area hospitals.

And after the war, she passionately advocated to provide pensions to Civil War nurses and argued that they should be given the right to vote in gratitude for their service. All her life, she had to struggle to make a living. She was never able to establish a successful medical practice because sadly, in her time, people just did not trust female physicians.

She finally passed away on the family farm in 1919 at the age of 86. Even in her time, she was more known for her eccentricities than her accomplishments and she's largely forgotten today. And that is just wrong because her accomplishments were astounding, especially with what she had to face in her day. And darn it, the only female winner of the Medal of Honor deserves to be remembered. And a special thanks to Greg and a special thanks to the history guy and darn it, he does deserve to be remembered. We're talking about Mary Edwards Walker, 3,473 Medal of Honor recipients. She's the only woman. And by the way, in large measure, she believes she got that honor by being the only doctor brave enough to go behind enemy lines to treat soldiers, that she would not be able to get a medical practice going in this country. Well, that tells you a lot about how far we've come.

People just didn't trust the idea of going to see a woman and thinking they'd get good treatment. The story of Mary Edwards Walker here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

Go to to learn more. You know, there are some things in life you just can't trust, like a free couch on the side of the road, or the sushi rolls from your local gas station, or when your kid says they don't need the bathroom before the road trip. But there are some things in life you can trust, like the HP Smart Tank Printer. With up to two years of ink included and outstanding print quality, you can rely on the HP Smart Tank Printer from HP, America's most trusted printer brand.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-28 04:16:03 / 2023-07-28 04:20:27 / 4

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