Doctor or Doctress?

Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians

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A letter from Rosa Sprig advising Mary Walker on manners.

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

Mary Walker was the only woman physician to serve as a government-commissioned surgeon in the American Civil War. She was appointed contract surgeon for the 52nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry in March 1864. In April 1864, Walker was captured by Confederate soldiers and held prisoner for four months in Richmond, Virginia. She was released four months later, in August. In recognition of her services to the Union Army, President Andrew Johnson awarded her a Medal of Honor in November 1865. In 1866, Walker became president of the National Dress Reform Association and was active in the Central Women's Suffrage Bureau. During the late 1860s and early 1870s, Walker toured the United Kingdom, giving lectures about her time spent as a war prisoner and supporting women’s dress reform. Walker quickly became well-known to the British public, not only for her services in the American Civil War, but also for her unusual style of dress and strong opinions. In the years after the Civil War, Walker became increasingly alienated from her peers in the women’s suffrage and temperance movements, due to her outspoken personality.

Mary Edwards Walker's style of dress was unusual for the time--she preferred pants to dresses--and was very involved with the women’s dress reform movement. While many women may have agreed with her ideas, Walker's strong personality and sometimes impolite manner made people hesitant to work with her. In her letter, Rosa Sprig, a British admirer of Walker's dress reform ideas, advises Walker to clean up her appearance so that others will take her ideas seriously.

Creator: Sprig, Rosa

Contributor: Walker, Mary Edwards, 1832-1919

Language: english

Item Number: a026_018

Pages: 2

Size: 25.1 x 20.2cm

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.

Manners and customs

Clothing and dress

Walker, Mary Edwards, 1832-1920

Long Lane, Islington, London, UK