Essays on Women's Rights
By Mary Edwards Md Walker
(Humanity Books, Paperback, 9781591020981, 170pp.)
Publication Date: August 1, 2003
The only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for her service during the Civil War, Dr. Mary E. Walker (1832-1919) was a surgeon, a public lecturer, and an outspoken champion of women's rights. One of the first women in the country to be awarded a medical degree, she served as an assistant surgeon for the 52nd Ohio Infantry and was cited for valor in going behind enemy lines to attend to the sick.
Though her early career was highly distinguished, her subsequent life became controversial and in some respects tragic. Always a woman of great independence, she publicly expressed strong opinions about the need for women's rights and harshly criticized prevailing patriarchal attitudes and the enforced subservience of women. After the war she published Hit, an enigmatically titled book in which she advanced her radical ideas on topics from love and marriage and dress reform to woman's suffrage and religion. Much ahead of her time, she urged women to retain their maiden names after marriage; refused to wear corsets and hoop skirts, instead donning men's pants, for which she was much ridiculed; inveighed against the harmful effects of tobacco (including second-hand smoke) and alcohol; argued passionately for women's right to vote; exposed the double standard of attitudes toward divorce, which often ostracized divorced women while fully accepting men's right to divorce; suggested that women should be compensated for domestic labor; and lambasted the doctrines of Christianity that kept women in subservient roles.
Unfortunately, her exceptional attitudes took a toll on her personal life. Her unhappy marriage to a philandering husband ended in divorce; she developed a public reputation as a crank and an eccentric due to her unusual opinions and men's clothing; and after her divorce she had difficulty making a living. Finally, as an elderly woman she endured the painful experience of seeing her Congressional Medal of Honor taken away when a review board decided that recipients who had not been cited for valor in combat were not entitled to the honor. The medal was restored posthumously in 1977.
With an insightful foreword by Walker specialist Mercedes Graf (professor of psychology, Governors State University, University Park, Illinois), this new edition of a little known work by a pioneering feminist will be of great interest to anyone concerned about women's rights.