Dr. Walker part II


Dr. Walker part II


PART II. In 1865 Pres. Andrew Johnson awarded Dr. Mary Walker the Medal of Honor. Dr. Walker wore the medal pinned to her suit coat every day for the rest of her life. In 1917, her medal was rescinded along w/those of 911 men, for want of direct combat.

She wrote a letter of protest, and simply continued to wear the medal until her death in 1919. Pres. Jimmy Carter reinstated the honor in 1977, thanks to feminist protest.

Dr. Walker is still the only woman ever to receive it.

Dr. Walker lived a long life, in Washington, Oswego & Albany.

She continued to practice medicine and activism. She campaigned for pensions for Civil War nurses and other women who had served, and never stopped urging women to give up corsets & petticoats.

She was close to Belva Lockwood, landmark lawyer and presidential candidate; they worked for suffrage thru the 1870s. Walker’s contributions to the movement were all but erased from the record by Stanton & Anthony, who were threatened by her & uncomfortable w/her gender-bending.

Was Dr. Walker trans? Genderqueer? A butch? Or just a sensible woman trying to do her job in appropriate clothing? There needn't be only one answer. Gender expression isn't static across one's life. I’ve used the pronoun “she” in these posts b/c Walker did - but with discomfort.

In early years she doesn’t try to pass, doesn’t call herself M. Edwards Walker or M.E. In lectures and in writing she regularly describes herself as a woman - a woman willing to challenge convention, and frustrated at how lonely that was.

She was arrested repeatedly for her clothing, in New York City & Baltimore.

Charged w/disorderly conduct & disturbing the peace, in 1866 she points out to the court that she’s been received by President Lincoln & Justice Salmon P. Chase wearing these clothes.

But that’s in 1866, when she was still wearing long hair and women’s collars.

Look at what Dr. Walker is wearing here. THIS is the kind of outfit that led to arrests. This is how little women could reject gender norms.

By the 1870s, Walker cut her hair short and wore unambiguously male clothing for the rest of her life. She sat for photos and had portraits painted in those years - in top hat & dinner jacket, Dr. Walker wanted to be seen clearly for who she was.

For queer people, Walker’s portraits offer a jolt of recognition. While she had flirty correspondences with men and women, her biographer says there’s no evidence of any relationship after her brief marriage. But she made an indp & defiantly gender-bending life in the 19th cent.

Walker proudly wore pants, ties, and short hair - and wasn’t afraid to say you should too. She wasn’t trying to blend in or disappear - though she could have; plenty of transmen did, and I admire that too. Instead, she stood out and spoke out.

That’s what makes her so admirable and so unique to me. She modeled professional excellence in everything she did, and demanded that other women interrogate the prison of convention they lived in.

There are at least two children’s books about Dr. Walker: Mary Walker Wears the Pants and Mary Wears What She Wants.

But the most fitting tribute hides in plain sight: @WhitmanWalker, which has been serving the health and well-being of LGBTQ Washington for 42 years.

I’m grateful to @uconn prof Sharon Harris’ terrific biography, Dr. Mary Walker: An American Radical, 1832-1919, which is available digitally; to Charlotte @cmclymer for getting the word out; to @AlbanyMuskrat & to @VesuviaAdelia for the perfect ending. #Suffrage100


Daily Suffragist




Dr. Walker in men's dress, standing.
Dr. Walker in reform dress
Dr. Walker in men's dress, seated
Dr. Walker Part II thread


Daily Suffragist, “Dr. Walker part II,” Daily Suffragist, accessed February 29, 2024, https://dailysuffragist.omeka.net/items/show/6.

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