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Dr. Mary Walker

Dr. Mary Walker: An American Radical, 1832-1919

Sharon M. Harris
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 330
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  • Book Info
    Dr. Mary Walker
    Book Description:

    A suffragist who wore pants.This is just the simplest of ways Dr. Mary Walker is recognized in the fields of literature, feminist and gender studies, history, psychology, and sociology.

    Perhaps more telling about her life are the words of an 1866London Anglo-American Timesreporter,"Her strange adventures, thrilling experiences, important services and marvelous achievements exceed anything that modern romance or fiction has produced. . . . She has been one of the greatest benefactors of her sex and of the human race."

    In this biography Sharon M. Harris steers away from a simplistic view and showcases Walker as a Medal of Honor recipient, examining her work as an activist, author, and Civil War surgeon, along with the many nineteenth-century issues she championed:political, social, medical, and legal reforms, abolition, temperance, gender equality, U.S. imperialism, and the New Woman.

    Rich in research and keyed to a new generation,Dr. Mary Walkercaptures its subject's articulate political voice, public self, and the realities of an individual whose ardent beliefs in justice helped shape the radical politics of her time.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4819-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 “Give me liberty of thought”: THE SEEDS OF RADICALISM
    (pp. 1-16)

    The large, rambling Walker house in Oswego Town was already steeped in activity when Mary Edwards Walker was born on November 26, 1832. Her parents, Vesta Whitcomb and Alvah Walker, left Syracuse in August of that year with the vision of establishing a productive home where they could raise their four lively, Syracuse-born daughters—Vesta, born in 1823; Aurora Borealis, 1825; Luna, 1827; and Cynthia, 1828—in a physically and intellectually healthy environment. Oswego Town seemed the perfect place to achieve their dream. They purchased a thirtyfive-acre farm on what became known as Bunker Hill Road. The soil was ideal...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Dress Reform and The Sibyl
    (pp. 17-30)

    Mary Walker wanted to be famous. She dreamed of it in her youth, and she proclaimed in her commencement address that she and her colleagues should seek “greatness in usefulness” as their highest priority but also should write their “names on the highest tablet of fame.” Her desire for public recognition was well known among her friends. As Clews wrote to Mary, since “you are an aspirant after fame[,] I am with you.” While Clews feared that fame meant notoriety, Mary saw it as an acknowledgment of intellectual achievement. Although “notorious” would be the term by which many critics identified...

  6. CHAPTER 3 “The ark of reform”: CIVIL WAR SURGEON
    (pp. 31-52)

    In April 1861, war began in earnest. Mary was entering the most extraordinary years of her life, years that would catapult her into the fame for which she had longed; but her first battle was the arduous legal process of seeking a divorce from Albert. She retained her friend B. F. Chapman as her attorney, and the court appointed an independent referee, D. D. Walrath, Esq., to determine the validity of the charges of adultery against Albert. On September 16, the state supreme court granted Mary a divorce. The court’s decree included Walrath’s assertion that “all the material facts charged...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Surgeon, Spy, Prisoner of War
    (pp. 53-74)

    Before Mary left for her first assignment as a contract surgeon, she resigned from her position with the Women’s Relief Association. After serving as the founding president, she worked for two months in a variety of capacities, including secretary, member of the finance committee, and as the association’s physician and surgeon. Her work with impoverished patients in these months led to her lifelong commitment to serve as physician to the laboring classes. She helped to secure 25 cots, 70 blankets, and a good supply of sheets, pillowcases, and other items for the WRA, as well as initially paying the rent...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Interlude
    (pp. 75-83)

    At age thirty-three, Mary began her postwar years with energy and enthusiasm but without a clear sense of how to reshape her life. As with most Americans after the war, it seemed impossible to return to the antebellum way of life. Even among women’s rights activists who wanted to return to their goals, daily routines were disrupted in ways that could not easily be reestablished. For a woman like Mary who had worked on the battlefield and earned national fame and a Medal of Honor, a return to routine after these unique experiences was nearly impossible. Her first step was...

    (pp. 84-99)

    In August 1866, Mary received an invitation to attend the Social Science Congress to be held in October in Manchester, England. The trip would give her an opportunity to see the United Kingdom and visit its hospitals, although the cost would be exorbitant. To defray costs, she applied for a position as a ship’s surgeon; when that failed, friends pitched in, including D. H. Craig, an Associated Press reporter who supported her desire to visit British hospitals. Leaving a few weeks before the conference, Mary joined Dr. Susannah Way Dodds and her Scottish husband Andrew on board theCaledonia. Dodds...

  10. CHAPTER 7 “A Representative Woman”
    (pp. 100-118)

    When Mary returned to the States in September 1867, she was nearing the age of thirty-five, invigorated by her year in Britain, and ready to join the major reform movements in her own country. She made her home primarily in Washington, D.C., but in many ways, America became her home. Washington and New York were the hubs of reform activism in these years, and she was oft en in movement between the two cities. Over the next five years she traveled across the country and spent time in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Kansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Maryland, and...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. CHAPTER 8 A Crusader’s Hit
    (pp. 119-133)

    In September 1869, Mary began her most extensive U.S. tour to date. The first stop was Cincinnati, where suffragists from around the country gathered to support the founding of the Ohio State Woman’s Suffrage Society. To Mary’s surprise, she was blocked by the organizers from speaking because they did not want dress reform associated with suffrage. On the first evening of the convention, however, a woman from Ohio rose to protest Mary’s exclusion, noting she “has entertained vast and polite audiences in England before many speakers of today had opened their mouths on the subject of Woman’s Rights.” The audience...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Women’s Rights Unmasked
    (pp. 134-163)

    In April 1871 a reporter for theWashington Gazetteassumed that, if a woman’s political party arose, Mary would be its presidential nominee. Mary proudly identified for the reporter four necessary qualifications for the presidency, which she met; readers would readily have recognized a critique of the abuses of power in President Grant’s administration. She had admired Grant during the war and was saddened and then angered to observe what she felt was his moral fall due to alcoholism and political corruption. First, she told the reporter, if elected she would be able to make a fifteen-minute speech “without being...

  14. CHAPTER 10 The Courtroom, the Legislature, Party Politics
    (pp. 164-185)

    In the fall of 1878, Mary was forty-six years old and thriving in her activism as she worked to advance numerous causes, participated in Washington suffrage organizations, and lectured throughout the country. She was well known in the halls of Congress, and she focused her writing on petitions, pamphlets, and letters to newspaper editors. In mid-November Mary undertook a short lecture circuit that began in Connecticut, where she spoke in favor of dress reform, suffrage, and greenbacks (paper money). She supported the maintaining of paper money as opposed to a specie-based monetary system because the latter held the danger of...

  15. CHAPTER 11 A Pragmatic Utopia
    (pp. 186-210)

    At the beginning of the 1890s, Mary’s commitment to political causes spiderwebbed into a grid of interrelated work for women’s rights. Although the usual criticisms continued, newspapers now published as much about her ideas as about her appearance. In part, attitudes about unconventionality were changing, and in part her bouts of ill health drew forth sympathy even from those who disagreed with her activism. In the fall of 1889, Mary fell, injuring her leg so badly that it would take more than a year to heal sufficiently, although never fully. As late as April 1890 bed rest was still required...

  16. CHAPTER 12 Anti-Imperialism and the World Stage
    (pp. 211-228)

    Mary’s return to Washington in January 1898 was covered by the city’s major newspapers, which now hailed her as “a remarkable woman” whose work was not yet completed. It took only a matter of days for political circles in the city to recognize that she had come with the intent to challenge the United States’ annexation of Hawai’i. Although the U.S. government had immersed itself in Hawai’i’s economy and politics for decades, it advanced its efforts at domination in 1893 when the military helped depose Queen Lili’uokalani and put a U.S.-aligned oligarchy in place on July 4, 1894, with Sanford...

  17. CHAPTER 13 The Age of Alienation
    (pp. 229-240)

    As the new century advanced, Mary maintained her medical practice and her commitments to suffrage and dress reform, but the law was increasingly important to her activism on both personal and national issues. She mended fences with the remaining Greenwich relatives and was granted power of attorney for the sale of Mary and Vashti Walker’s home. But it was constitutional and criminal law to which she turned her attention in early 1902. She was again dividing her time between Oswego, New York City, and Washington. In New York she attended several trials, including Florence Burns’s trial for the murder of...

  18. CHAPTER 14 The Pioneer Embraced
    (pp. 241-252)

    During an “Old Home Week” celebration in Oswego, Mary was asked to contribute to the festivities. She penned “Welcome Home,” a tribute to “Vesta, Aurora, and Luna; the Walker Sisters, who were Educators nearly sixty years since.” Proud of her sisters and of “Oswego—dear old native land,” Mary honored the innovative education fostered by her parents and continued by her sisters. But America itself was equally Mary’s “dear old native land.” While her last decade would see an acceptance of pants for women, an honoring of her many contributions to women’s rights, and recognition of her role as one...

  19. Epilogue
    (pp. 253-254)

    Eighteen months after Mary’s death, on August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified by Congress. It recognized women as citizens and granted them the right to vote....

  20. Notes
    (pp. 255-286)
  21. Index
    (pp. 287-308)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 309-310)