Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Women's History Month

While I believe that the concept of special "history months" is a questionable idea, since a comprehensive study of history should already include things like the contributions of women, the oppressed and minorities in any given period, since it is Women's History Month, I'm going to try to highlight some exceptional women who have gone unknown to most people... even to me... until now.

To start, the only woman ever to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Dr. Mary E. Walker (1832 - 1919). All of the following is copied from http://www.mishalov.com/Dr._Mary_Walker.html , for the purpose of preserving the information should that site ever disappear from the web:

DR. MARY E. WALKER

Rank and organization: Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian), U. S. Army.

Places and dates: Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861; Patent Office Hospital, Washington, D.C., October 1861; Chattanooga, Tenn., following Battle of Chickamauga, September 1863; Prisoner of War, April 10, 1864 - August 12, 1864, Richmond, Va.; Battle of Atlanta, September 1864.

Entered service at: Louisville, Ky.

Born: 26 November 1832, Oswego County, N.Y.

Citation: [below are the words of President Andrew Johnson]

Whereas it appears from official reports that Dr. Mary E. Walker, a graduate of medicine, "has rendered valuable service to the Government and her efforts have been earnest and untiring in a variety of ways," and that she was assigned to duty and served as an assistant surgeon in charge of female prisoners at Louisville, Ky., upon the recommendation of Major Generals Sherman and Thomas, and faithfully served as contract surgeon in the service of the United States, and has devoted herself with much patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded soliders, both in the field and hospitals, to the detriment of her own health, and has also endured hardships as a prisoner of war four months in a Southern prison while acting as contract surgeon; and

Whereas by reason of her not being a commissioned officer in the military service, a brevet or honorary rank cannot, under existing laws, be conferred upon her; and

Whereas in the opinion of the President an honorable recognition of her services and sufferings should be made:

It is ordered, That a testimonial thereof shall be hereby made and given to the said Dr. Mary E. Walker, and that the usual medal of honor for meritorious services be given her.

Given under my hand in the city of Washington, D.C., this 11th day of November, A.D. 1865.

*****

Dr. Mary E. Walker, M.D., a Civil War physician, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1865, upon recommendation of Major General Sherman, and Major General Thomas. Men who remembered the early defeats of the Army of the Potomac in 1861 and 1862, whereas Washington itself became a hospital complex treating 20,000 plus wounded union troops.

Horse-drawn ambulance-trains pressed a never ending demand for new facilities to convert into hospitals. The military used public buildings, including one wing of the Patent Office, which became known as the Patent Office Hospital from 1861 to 1863.

Field hospitals abounded, in which the most common surgery was amputation and embalming. As assistant surgeon, Dr. Mary Walker no doubt experienced her share of horror at human suffering. When captured, she became a prisoner of war in a southern prison in Virginia.

Dr. Mary Walker's Medal of Honor was rescinded in 1917, along with 910 others. Today, some believe her medal was rescinded because of her involvement as a suffragette. Others, discredit that opinion as 909 medals rescinded were awarded to males. The stated reason, and credible one, was government's effort to ". . . increase the prestige of the grant."

For whatever reason, former POW Dr. Mary Walker refused to return the MOH, and wore it until her death in 1919. Fifty-eight years later, the U.S. Congress posthumously reinstated her medal, and it was restored by President Carter on June 10, 1977. Today, Dr. Walker's name is on a plaque in the Pentagon, and she is the only woman of the Civil War, or any war, known to have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

2 comments:

Struggle For Justice said...

As to be expected, the government often reflects the biases of the day and instead of setting the example for society, it becomes a moral whore. So much injustice has been done against women in the past one would think there could be a small ray of sunshine popping through now and then

Rachael said...

This is somewhat off the subject, but I was just listening to Barack Obama, junior Senator from Illinois (I think), speak about the whoring of government morals this afternoon on the Senate floor... via C-SPAN2. He was talking about how they need to pass the proposed legislation that will make the act of an elected official accepting *anything* worth any amount of money from any lobbyist considered bribery... not just the expensive stuff, he said, but anything. He said that it is because the moral integrity of the government must be improved and standards must be raised and held to for the good of the country and that passing this legislation, essentially, is an excellent place to start.

I think there are small rays of sunshine every now and then, but sometimes it's so cloudy and the fog is so thick it's difficult to see and remember them.