Historic Central NY Woman to be Featured on New US Quarter
A slice of local history is being celebrated by the U.S. Mint.
Oswego-native Dr. Mary Edwards Walker will be featured on the 13th quarter in the American Women Quarters Program. The design was recently unveiled and the quarter will begin circulation in 2024.
She's only woman to receive the Medal of Honor
Dr. Walker was born in Oswego on November 26, 1832 to abolitionists Alvah and Vesta Whitcomb Walker. Her parents encouraged her education and independent spirit - even going as far as allowing her to wear untraditional clothing for women, like "bloomer" pants.
She graduated from Syracuse Medical College, becoming the second woman in the school's history to do so, and earned a medical degree in 1855.
Dr. Walker went on to become a surgeon. But her story only gets more interesting from there...
She opened a medical practice in Rome with her husband, Albert Miller, but it failed because the residents weren't too jazzed about having a female doctor.
Then the Civil War erupted and Dr. Walker applied to join the Union's cause in 1861. She later became the female U.S. Army surgeon during the Civil War.
When she wasn't practicing medicine, she advocated for women's rights, moonlighted as a spy, became a prisoner of war, and followed her parents' abolitionist footsteps.
Acting as a spy
Dr. Walker requested to become a spy for the Union in 1863, when she was working the front lines in Virginia. She often had to cross into enemy territory to care for wounded soldiers and civilians.
She was captured by Confederate soldiers in April of 1864 after performing an amputation with an enemy doctor. She was held captive for four months and, during that time, she outright refused to wear any of the women's clothes provided to her - because she only wore men's clothes.
It's said she even wore pants to her own wedding! It should be noted her marriage ended in divorce, because her husband wasn't faithful.
Dr. Walker was released in a prisoner exchange on November of 1864 and joined the Ohio 52nd Infantry as its assistant surgeon.
President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor after the war.
Life after the Civil War
Dr. Walker continued advocating for women's rights and called for "dress reform." Her desire to wear traditionally male clothing got her arrested in 1870 in New Orleans.
Dr. Walker preferred wearing men's clothing because she felt it was more comfortable and hygienic.
She also tried registering to vote in 1871, of which she was denied, and continued to fight for women's suffrage. She also testified about women's suffrage before the House of Representatives in 1912 and 1914.
Dr. Walker also worked as a lecturer and published material on topics like health care and women's rights.
She tried jumping into politics in 1881, where she ran for a seat on the U.S. Senate, and in 1890 as a member of Congress. Both attempts failed.
It should be noted that her cousin, Thomas R. Walker, served as the two-time Mayor of Utica in 1849 and 1850.
Dr. Walker was stripped of her Medal of Honor in 1916 after an eligibility review claimed she did not meet the requirements, but she continued to wear her award with pride until her death three years later at age 86.
She was buried at Rural Cemetery in Oswego and, yes, she was buried in a suit - not a dress.
President Jimmy Carter later restored her as a Medal of Honor recipient. Her new quarter will also depict her wearing her Medal of Honor.
Other cool facts
Dr. Walker was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2000. She also had a Liberty ship named after her in World War II, called the SS Mary Walker.
Also, in 2012, a 900-pound bronze sculpture of her was unveiled in Oswego. You can visit it at the city's Town Hall.
Other women getting quarters in 2024
According to the U.S. Mint, four other women will be honored by the program.
Honorees include Celia Cruz, Zitkala-Ša, Patsy Takemoto Mink and Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray.
You can learn more about the quarters program on the Mint's YouTube.