Dr. Mary Walker (1832-1919) was the first female surgeon in the U.S. Army, a suffragist, an abolitionist, a prohibitionist, endured four months in a Confederate prison and remains, to this day, the only woman to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Her ordeal as a prisoner of war had lifelong ramifications for her physical well-being, but she did not slow down. If anything, she overcompensated and became busier than ever. A militant believer in the equivalency of men and women, this extended to her appearance: she attired herself in “reform dress,” a skirt over trousers, which she wore for comfort and freedom of movement. She was a feminist before the term was coined.
Her personal challenges included a philandering husband, sexism from dismissive men, and resentment from women who saw her as competitive.
Her life was full of dramatic possibilities, and it is finally the subject of a solo play, Independence, The True Story of Dr. Mary Walker.
Written and directed by Lloyd J. Schwartz. Starring Kathie Barnes.
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