Doctor or Doctress?

Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians

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A letter to Dr. Mary Walker from George Dornbusch, a supporter of Dr. Walker’s ideas about dress reform.

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“How Dr. Mary is Remarkable”: A Female Surgeon in the Civil War

Dr. Walker was also a strong advocate for women’s dress reform, movement which began in the middle of the 19th century and whose goals was to change women’s clothing to be more comfortable and practical. She began wearing bloomers [loose-fitting pants, gathered at the ankle and often worn under knee-length dresses] during the Civil War and after the War began wearing “men’s clothing” – trousers and Prince Albert jackets, accompanied by short hair and sometimes a top hat. After the Civil War, Dr. Mary became president of the National Dress Reform Association and was active in the Central Women’s Suffrage Bureau.  She also supported the temperance movement that sought to outlaw alcohol consumption in the United States.  In the late 1860s and early 1870s, she toured the United Kingdom lecturing about her Civil War experience and explaining the health-related reasons women ought to shun their traditional dress and begin wearing trousers.  While many women may have agreed with her ideas, Dr. Mary’s strong personality and sometimes impolite manner made people hesitant to work with her.

Although Dr. Walker is well-known because she was the only female surgeon in the American Civil War, she was also a supporter of women’s dress reform, and many of the letters written to her allow the reader to understand the opinions of her correspondents.

Creator: Dornbusch, George

Contributor: Walker, Mary Edwards, 1832-1919

Language: english

Item Number: a026_015

Pages: 2

Size: 13.33 x 21.5cm

Physical Collection: Papers of Lida Poynter ca.1850-1946 (ACC-026), ACC-026

Finding Aid:

Link to OPAC Record:

Cite this source: Title of document, date. A Female Civil War Surgeon: How Dr. Mary is Remarkable. Doctor or Doctress?: Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians. The Legacy Center, Drexel University College of Medicine Archives & Special Collections. Philadelphia, PA. Date of access.

Walker, Mary Edwards, 1832-1919

Women's clothing

Women's rights

London (England)