Doctor or Doctress?

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Newspaper clipping summarizing Mary Walker's career and role in the Civil War.

Why It Matters

Mary Edwards Walker's style of dress was unusual for the time --she preferred pants to dresses--and she was very involved with the women’s dress reform movement. While many admired her work as a surgeon in the Civil War, Walker's strong personality and sometimes impolite manner made people impatient with her and hesitant to support reformist ideas, even if they may have agreed with them. The author of this article reflects this attitude, becoming increasingly dismissive of Walker's post-war personality and ideas.

Analyze this evidence

  • What does the author mean by “remarkable”? Is it a positive or negative description of Walker?
  • Based on this article, do you think Walker was respected? Why or why not?

Listen to this document read aloud

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Dr. Mary is a remarkable woman. During the war she rendered great service to the Union Army in the hospitals of the West. She asked no compensation for her work and received none. It was during this period that she adopted the bloomer costume, which was the first step toward her investiture in men’s garments. After the war she came to Washington and made application to Secretary Stanton for a commission as army surgeon. She had graduated as a physician and had done a physician’s work during the war and Secretary Stanton had a commission issued to her as major and surgeon of the army. Of course the appointment was purely honorary. There was no emolument attached to it. Dr. Walker had some money then, and she asked none of the government. Shortly afterward she hung out her shingle and entered on the practice of medicine, still wearing the bloomer costume. But practice was not good and she went to Congress for a pension, which she succeeded in obtaining, as well as a clerkship in the pension office, which she held for a number of years. Her ideas developed in so peculiar a way, however, that her services were dispensed with. Since that time she has constantly pursued Congress with a claim for an additional pension, which she finds it very difficult to obtain. She succeeds, however, in making a complete nuisance of herself. She demands the rights accorded to those who wear the male costume, but insists upon her privileges as a woman. She has been known to order a man to drop the cigar he was smoking because its fumes offended her and because he had “no right to smoke in the presence of a lady."