Tag Archives: Doctor

Mary Edwards Walker: Medal of Honor

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Photo of Mary Edwards Walker

Photo of Mary Edwards Walker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Medal of Honor in the United States of America’s highest military honor. It was created on December 21st, 1861 in a bill that stated “which shall be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen, and marines as shall distinguished themselves by their gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities during the present war (Civil War).” The first Medal of Honor was made on March 25, 1863 to Private Jacob Parrott and the last award was February 11, 2013 to Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha. A total of 3,460 people have received the Medal of Honor. Out of these 3,460 only ONE woman has received the medal; her name is Dr. Marry Edwards Walker.

Marry Edwards Walker was born on November 26, 1832, in Oswego, New York. Her parents, Alvah Walker and Vesta Whitcomb Walker, urged their five daughters and a son to aspire to professional careers. After attending school taught by her parents, she taught for two years before deciding to become a doctor. She enrolled in Syracuse Medical College, graduated in two years, and married fellow physician Albert Miller. The couple set up their own medical practice, but because society was not ready to accept a female physician, the practice fell apart and the couple divorced.

Since Walker grew up on a farm, she realized how inconvenient dresses were to work in. She would spend her whole life making a statement in clothing; she was one of the first to hem her skirt below her knees and to replace her petticoats with long trousers. Before the Civil War, she was a contributor to The Sybil: A Review of the Tastes, Errors, and Fashions of Society and Vice-President of National Dress Reform Association.  

After the Civil War broke out, she headed to Washington, D.C. to become a surgeon in the U.S. Army; she was initially denied. She volunteered at a local hospital and took extra classes to enhance her credentials; in she also started a service to help women find their loved ones in hospitals and founded a safe lodging building for women to stay in. In 1863, she headed to Tennessee on her own to provide medical care to the survivors of the Battle of the Chickamauga. Though she was forced to work as a nurse, due to the army’s need for doctors, she became the assistant army surgeon with the rank of lieutenant. She would cross into Confederate Territory to treat diseases until she was captured on April 10, 1864. She was held in Richmond, Virginia because it was believed she was an Union Spy. She was released on August 12 in a prisoner exchange program. Instead of going home, she served as the head of a hospital for female Confederate prisoners in Louisville, Kentucky. The last weeks of the war she spent running a home for orphans in Clarksville, Tennessee. After the war, she was recommended for the Medal of Honor by Generals William Sherman and George Thomas. On November 11, 1865, President Andrew Johnson signed a bill to present her the medal.

After the war ended, she gave lectures about the women’s rights movement: education, marriage, abortion, equal pay for equal work, and military pensions for Civil War nurses. She would receive a military pension, but it was only half of what men were receiving. But due to her wearing male clothing and believing that the constitution did not need an amendment to allow women to vote, that it was already guaranteed in the constitution, she was shunned by women. In 1890, she returned to the family homestead in New York, running the farm and working on women’s rights. In 1917 on a trip to Washington, she fell on the Capitol’s steps and suffered injuries that she would die from two years later at the of 86. That same year, her Medal of Honor was revoked for lack of proper War Department documentation. She died alone at her home. and was buried in a black suit, an American flag draped over her casket.

Mary Edwards Walker spent her life trying to make the world a better place. She became a doctor to help others, but was forced to spend her life fighting for the chance to help others because society was not ready for a female doctor. During the war, risked her life crossing enemy borders to take care of injured soldiers. She also broke the law several times for causing a public disturbance for wearing pants… since pants were easier to work in. Instead of dying with honors, she died alone because society for not ready for a woman. Though she never received the the pensions and admiration from women and men that she deserved in her life time, President Jimmy Carter awarded her the Medal of Honor (again) in 1977. In the past 160 years, she is still the only woman to have that distinctive honor.

Sources:

Congressional Medal of Honor Society

Mary Edwards Walker

 

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Elizabeth Blackwell: First Female American Doctor

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Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was a time when it was expected that a boy would grow up to become a doctor while a girl would grow up to become a nurse. That stereotypical idea still exists in the present day, but because women are more likely to go to college than men, it is predicted that by 2017, there will be more female doctors than male doctors. The fact that there could be more female doctors shows how much women have come since the first female American doctor graduated from medical school less than 200 years ago. Her name was Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell.

Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, England on February 3, 1821, but moved to the United States when she was eleven for financial reasons and because her father wanted to help abolish slavery. In America, the Blackwell family gave up sugar to protest the slave trade and the children were up believing that women deserved to be educated. Due to her father’s unexpected early death, Blackwell became a teacher and opened up a school with two of her sisters. Blackwell was repulsed by the idea of the body, but she changed her mind after a dying friend suggested that she would have been spared her worst suffering if her physician had been a woman.

Blackwell was able to convince two physician friends to let her read medicine with them for a year and she applied to over fifteen schools. In 1847, she was accepted by the Geneva Medical College in New York. The Geneva Medical faulty, assuming that the all-male student body would never agree to a woman joining their ranks, allowed the male students to vote on her admission. If one male student out of the 150 student body voted “no” then she would be turned down. As a joke, they all voted yes. Though many students and teachers disagreed with a woman becoming a doctor, Blackwell was accepted. In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell  become the first woman in America to earn her M.D. degree. She spent two years in Europe working at clinics but after contracting purulent ophthalmia, she lost sight in one eye and returned to New York.

In New York she had trouble finding a job because she was a woman so she opened her own dispensary in a single rented room. With the help of her sister, Dr. Emily Blackwell, and friend, Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, she established the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1857 for women who were rejected from internships elsewhere. Blackwell also helped create the U.S. Sanitary Commission because she realized that maintaining sanitary conditions was an important aspect of health. Due to her health, she was forced to retire in the late 1870’s but she continued to campaign for reform. She published several books on women in medicine and became involved in many different social reform organizations. Blackwell spent the later years traveling until May 31, 1910, when she died in Hastings, England after suffering from a stroke.

Elizabeth Blackwell became a doctor because she realized female patients would be comfortable around female doctors and because she wanted women to be considered equal in the medical field. Though females were just becoming accepted as nurses in the mid 1850’s, Blackwell pushed the barrier even further by becoming a doctor. Blackwell went on to open medical schools for women and became a mentor for many other female doctors. Though Blackwell led the way for women becoming doctors, the fact that male doctors make more then $12,000 a year than female doctors mean that equality in the medical field is not there yet.

Sources:

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell. biography

Female doctors set to outnumber male colleagues

Male Doctors make $12,000 more than Female Doctors per Year