Friday, April 08, 2016

The First Woman to Win The Congressional Medal of Honor

The first woman POW was taken in the Civil War. Union army contract surgeon Dr. Mary E. Walker was captured on April 10, 1864. She was imprisoned in the military prison in Richmond, Virginia known as "Castle Thunder". She was released on August 12, 1864, in a prisoner exchange.

Dr. Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor for her service as a surgeon during the Civil War, “without regard to her own health and safety”. She is the only woman to have received the Medal of Honor. When the criteria for awarding the medal changed in 1917, Dr. Walker’s medal was rescinded along with 900 others. In 1977 the Army Board of Corrections reviewed the case and reversed the 1917 decision, restoring the Medal of Honor to Dr. Walker.

A quick look at women doctors and medicine in the Civil War for the general reader. Technologically, the American Civil War was the first “modern” war, but medically it still had its roots in the Middle Ages. In both the North and the South, thousands of women served as nurses to help wounded and suffering soldiers and civilians. A few women served as doctors, a remarkable feat in an era when sex discrimination prevented women from pursuing medical education, and those few who did were often obstructed by their male colleagues at every turn.

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