Mary Edwards Walker

I chose Mary Edwards Walker as my leader for this final project. I have always enjoyed reading a little bit of military history and I always look for stories about people who have gone above and beyond the call of duty or went against the grain. In my opinion, she really set the bar high for other women to follow, and I find her to be an exemplary leader and role model for other women in the business world.

Mary Walker was born on November 26, 1832 in Oswego, New York (Unknown, Women in History ). She can accredit her leadership style and personality to her father, Alvah. Her father was a farmer, abolitionist, and a self-taught doctor. During this time, most women did not attend school or work outside the home, but because Mary’s father believed that women should be well educated, he built the first schoolhouse in Oswego on their land known as the Bunker Hill Farm (Unknown, Women in History ).

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In addition, this farm served as a “station” in the Underground Railroad system that assisted southern slaves to freedom—mainly from western New York into Canada (D. L. Walker 29-30) . Alvah also believed that women’s clothing was too tight and because his daughters had to help on the farm, he prohibited them from wearing the traditional clothing and corsets (Unknown, Women in History ). When Mary turned 18, she spent two years at the Falley Seminary where she was taught Mathematics, Philosophy, Grammar, and Hygiene (D. L. Walker 30).

She graduated and became a teacher; however, Mary really wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a doctor. With the money she saved while teaching, Mary enrolled into the Syracuse Medical College in 1853 (Unknown, Women in History ). This was the first medical school in the United States and one of the few that accepted both men and women. Mary graduated in June of 1855 at the age of 21 after attending three 13-week semesters of medical training. She was the only woman in her graduating class, and only the second female doctor in the nation (Unknown, Women in History ).

Shortly after graduation she went to her aunt’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio to open her own private medical practice. She was forced to close her practice and moved back to New York because women were not respected or trusted as doctors, and in 1856 she married one of her fellow college classmates, Albert Miller (Unknown, Mary Edwards Walker 2010). Their ceremony did not include the phrase “promise to obey,” she did not take his name, and her wedding attire was trousers and a dress-coat.

They moved to Rome, New York to set up a joint medical practice but again society was not able to handle a female doctor so they were forced to close; in the end their marriage only lasted thirteen years (Unknown, Mary Edwards Walker Civil War Doctor). When the news of the losses from the Battle of Bull Run in July of 1861 reached Mary, she knew that she had finally found her calling and went to Washington, D. C. to offer her services (Unkown 2006). Mary finally arrived in October and found the Capital overflowing with sick and wounded soldiers in the makeshift hospitals that were set up wherever there was room .

Ironically enough, Mary was denied to work as a medical officer for the Army. However, her strong will and determination to help and use her valuable skills she acquired from her medical degree led her to volunteer as a nurse where she eventually became the assistant surgeon to the hospital that was set up in the U. S. Patent Office. Due to her volunteer status Mary was able to move about freely and decided to organize the Women’s Relief Association, which provided lodging for the wives, mothers, and children of the soldiers. Dr. Mary Walker’s vision was simple, be true to yourself and never give up on your dreams.

Mary lived by the creed, “whatever is right and true” (Harris 5). She maintained this vision throughout her entire career and life and proved that she was followed the behavior leadership style—leaders are predominately made depending on the external and internal environments. Mary’s childhood with a father that was both supportive and an idealist, led to her becoming headstrong in her values to be seen as an equal to her male counterparts. She learned from an early age that women were seen as inferior through society’s rules/norms on how females were to dress, the type of career they were supposed to have.

Women were not to be outspoken and were expected to obey their husbands, and divorce was not taken well either. Mary was not afraid and she was able to ignore the rules of society and strive for making her mark in both the medical world and women’s rights by refusing to give up when she was told no, or had to close her medical office doors. For these reasons, Mary did not have many followers in the beginning of her career; however, in my opinion, Mary pushed every one of these limits that led her to be a successful person later in her life.

In addition, I feel that she led change by voicing her opinions regarding her attire, her beliefs on women’s right to vote, and her struggles to become a respected female physician. In 1862, Mary went to the Forest Hall Prison in Georgetown, Kentucky but she felt like her services were not really needed. She eventually returned to New York where she earned her second medical degree from the Hygeia Therapeutic College, then returning to Washington, D. C. by November that year (Unknown, Women in History ).

Mary worked as an unpaid field surgeon near the Union front lines during the Battle of Fredericksburg and in Chattanooga at the Battle of Chickamauga (Unkown 2006). On a number of occasions Dr. Walker would cross enemy lines to assist Georgians whose lives had been destroyed by The Civil War. Following the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, women and children in northeast Georgia frequently lived in swamps and low ground near water, sometimes sick or near death. Dr. Walker would treat these victims with supplies taken from Federal stores (Unknown, Mary Edwards Walker).

Mary was finally commissioned as a “Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian)” by the Army of the Cumberland in September of 1863, and she made herself a slightly modified officer’s uniform—trousers beneath a knee–length skirt—to wear in response to the demands of traveling with the soldiers and working in field hospitals (Unknown, Mary Edwards Walker Civil War Doctor). This job classification and position derived from the Army medical department to cover the male civilians who were needed to be physicians and surgeons. Interestingly enough, President Abraham Lincoln personally appointed Mary to this position.

While Mary was serving in the 52nd Ohio Infantry in Cumberland, she was taken hostage as a Prisoner of War by Confederate soldiers on April 10, 1864. Mary spent four months at Castle Thunder prison in Richmond, Virginia before she was reassigned to the Female Military Prison at Louisville, Kentucky, as the surgeon in charge. On August 12, Mary along with 24 other Union doctors was exchanged for 17 Confederate doctors. Mary was greatly pleased that she had been traded “man for man,” for a Confederate Officer (Unknown, Mary Edwards Walker) . Mary then returned to the 52nd Ohio Infantry as their contract surgeon.

She then went to the Louisville Women’s Prison Hospital; however, her constant run-ins with a resentful and uncooperative staff eventually led her to request a transfer in March 1865 (Mary Edwards Walker 2004). Walker then spent the final weeks of the war running a home for orphans and refugees in Clarksville, Tennessee (Unknown, Mary Edwards Walker 2010). Mary was discharged on June 15, 1865. On November 11 President Andrew Johnson signed a bill (upon the recommendations of Major General William Sherman and George Thomas) to present Dr. Mary Walker with the Congressional Medal of Honor for her meritorious service (Unkown 2006).

She was the only woman ever to receive the Medal of Honor, her country’s highest military award. In 1917, Congress revised the standards for the Medal of Honor to include only “actual combat with an enemy,” so they took away her medal along with the other 910 medal honorees (Unknown, Mary Edwards Walker 1832-1919 Congressional Medal of Honor Women in Military Service). However, when the Federal Marshals arrived at Mary’s house to take back the medal, she met them at the door wearing the medal around her neck brandishing a 12-gauge shotgun (she kept her medal)!

President Carter reinstated her medal posthumously on June 11, 1977 citing her “distinguished gallantry, self-sacrifice, patriotism, dedication and unflinching loyalty to her country, despite the apparent discrimination because of her sex” (Patrick). When Mary was asked how she earned her medal, she simply replied, “The special valor was for going into enemy grounds when the inhabitants were suffering for professional service and sent to our lines begging assistance, and no man surgeon was willing to respond for fear of being taken prisoner” (M.

E. Walker 7-8). This reply proves my earlier statement that she did not see men as superior to women. After the war ended, Mary continued her endeavors by working on getting relief bills for war nurses, writing and lecturing throughout the U. S. and abroad on women’s rights and dress reform, and on health and temperance issues. In September of 1866, Mary helped both Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone organize the Women’s Suffrage Association for Ohio and coordinated activities for the Central Women’s Suffrage Bureau (Unknown, Women in History ).

In my opinion, Mary’s job performance in human relations, team leadership, and subordinate development were all positive even though she was met with great resistance from both her male colleagues and society in general. She was not afraid to speak her mind regarding women’s clothing, the advanced uses of both general and homeopathic medicine, and equal rights for women. There were not many chances for subordinate development among her peers due to them being all male (during her career as a nurse and surgeon) instead of having female followers.

Her team leadership abilities were not strong because she could not support the suffragists’ call for the adoption of a special amendment to the Constitution granting the vote to women. Her position on the amendment did not spring from any belief that women shouldn’t have the right to vote rather, according to Mary’s interpretation of the Constitution, women already had the right to vote. Therefore, she insisted, the suffragists’ actions were pointless, with her refusing to budge on this issue, Mary drove a wedge between herself, and the mainstream activists (such as Susan B.

Anthony) who feared her extremism would paint the movement in a negative light and jeopardize its goals (Unknown, Mary Edwards Walker 2010) Moreover, in my opinion, S. R. Wells described her leadership abilities and skills best when he stated, “You should be known for your executiveness, faith, hope, and trust; next your firmness, decision and self-reliance, and your powers of observation and reflection…your kindness, sympathy, and willingness to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of others, and planning power.

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Mary Edwards Walker. (2016, Oct 26). Retrieved from