Recognizing Valor with the Medal of Honor

by
Elizabeth L. Maurer

Mary Elizabeth Walker, an 1855 graduate of Syracuse Medical College, was among nation’s few female medical doctors at the beginning of the Civil War. She recognized that the Army needed medical personnel and vigorously pursued a US Army commission. Though denied a commission, she volunteered in hospitals in Washington, DC and Virginia. Walker finally secured a contract position with the Ohio 52nd Infantry in 1863. Confederates captured Walker and made her a prisoner of war. Following her release in a prisoner exchange, Walker secured a contract position as an Acting Assistant Surgeon directly with the US Army where she was assigned to supervise female prisoners of war and an orphanage. Walker retired from military service at the war’s conclusion. She was awarded the Medal of Honor in recognition of her extraordinary service to her country. Dr. Walker remains the only woman in history to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.