Not New Hampshire: Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919)

A word to the wise–REMARKABLE discoveries are possible within in your own family photo albums.

Dr. Mary E. Walker

A couple of months ago I was reviewing a collection of photographs that were mainly those of the FRETTS family of New Hampshire.  You see, Emma J. Fretts was the second wife of my great-grandfather, Charles Kilborn (I descend from his first wife).  Emma had only one child with Charles–a son Henry who remained a bachelor.  Their photographs ended up among my cousin’s things, and she passed them along to me.

What was intriguing about ONE photograph in the album, taken in Nashua, New Hampshire, was that it was of a woman, obviously dressed in men’s evening attire, and the name underneath was “Dr. Mary E. Walker.”  She didn’t seem to fit into the Fretts Genealogy that I had compiled, nor did the Fretts family include a Walker line.

Through an internet search I quickly discovered that I had an amazingly well preserved and detailed photograph of THE FAMOUS Dr. Mary E. Walker. (I have since donated the entire Fretts album and Dr. Walker’s photograph to the New Hampshire Historical Society).  I suspect that while on a speaking tour she stopped in New Hampshire, and had her photograph taken.  One of the Fretts family, probably Emma Fretts Kilborn, had obtained a copy as a souvenir.

Who exactly was Mary Edwards Walker?  She was the only woman to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor. She was awarded this honor for her service during the Civil War, when she was an unpaid volunteer serving as acting assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army.  She would personally go out into the battlefields to see who needed aid, and was also known to travel behind enemy lines to aid Confederate citizens, using Union supplies.  During one of those trips she was captured, and sent to a Richmond Virginia prison. After being held there for four months,she was traded for a man in a prisoner swap.

Shortly after the war she was recommended for the Medal of Honor. On 11 Nov 1865 President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal. This honor was withdrawn from her in 1917, possibly because of her involvement as a suffrage activist (although the official statement indicated it was due to the rules for receiving the award having changed).

She refused to return the medal, and died in 1919.

All but forgotten until the late 1960s, Walker was
resurrected by a great grandniece, Ann Walker, who campaigned for
restoration of the medal. Presumably riding a tide of feminist
enthusiasm, Ann Walker gathered support and was successful.” (from Is America Burning).  On June 10, 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed an order restoring the award. Fiveyears later, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in Dr. Mary Walker’s honor. The stamp pictures an exceedingly feminine young woman in a lovely dress.”

When President Jimmy Carter reinstated her medal in 1977, he cited her “distinguished gallantry, self-sacrifice, patriotism, dedication, and unflinching loyalty to her country, despite the apparent discrimination because of her sex.”

She was born Mary Edwards Walker on 26 Nov 1832 in the town of Oswego, New York, to an abolitionist family. Her birthplace on the Bunker Hill Road has a historic marker.  Following in the footsteps of her father, a country doctor, she graduated from the eclectic Syracuse Medical College, graduating at age 21 after three 13-week semesters of medical training.

In 19 Nov 1855 she married another physician, Eber Albert Miller, but kept her own name. They had a joint medical practice in Rome, New York.  They divorced 13 years later.

Later in life Mary donned full men’s evening dress when she lectured on Women’s Rights. In addition she promoted dress reform, abolition of alcohol, and the hazards of smoking tobacco.

In 1982 a 20 cent stamp was issued to commemorate that Dr. Mary E. Walker was the second woman to graduate from medical school in the United States, the first woman to serve with the Army Medical Corp, and the first, and only woman to receive the Medal of Honor. [see comments above].


*Additional Reading*

-Women and War-

Mary Walker

Mary Walker Bibliog (PDF file)

Town of Oswego: Dr. Mary Walker

Only Woman Medal of Honor Holder Ahead of Her Time


Philip Walker, son of “Widow Walker” who was one of the first purchasers of Rehobeth MA. He was b. abt 1620-1629 in England, and d. 1679; He m. abt 1654 to Jane Metcalfe, dau of Michael & Sarah (Ellwin) Metcalfe of Dedham MA. She b. 1632. Philip Walker’s occupation in 1659 was that of weaver. He eventually became one of the wealthiest men of Rehoboth. He held many offices of importance including Grand Juryman in 1655 and 1678, Highway Surveyor in 1657, Constable in 1658, Selectman in 1656 and Deputy to the Plymouth Colony in 1669. He served as a church Deacon for sevveral years. He contributed 26 pounds to the colony’s war effort during King Philip’s War with the Indians.
[Some info on this line from “Records of William Spooner of Plymouth, Mass,” by Thomas Spooner and “Memorial of the Walkers of Old Plymouth,” by James Bradford Walker, p. 119]
Children of Philip & Jane (Metcalf) Walker:
1. Samuel Walker, b. Feb 1655, d. 12 Aug 1712; He m. 11 Nov 1681 to Martha Ide, dau of Nicholas Ide. He m2) Elizabeth –. After his death, widow Elizabeth m. John Smith of Roxbury MA.
2. Sarah Walker, b. 16 Feb 1657; buried 2 Aug 1693. She m. 27 Dec 1677 Abraham Perrin. Had issue.
3. Philip Walker, b. March 1661; d. 17 Feb 1639; He m1) 1689 Mary Bowen; he m2) Sarah — who d. 1639. Had 10 ch.
4. Elizabeth Walker, b. 1661-2, some say twin of Philip.
5. Mary Walker, b. May 1663, d. 1694.
6. Experience Walker, buried 10 Nov 1674.
7. Elizabeth Walker, b. 1 Apr 1666, m. 1687 Henry Sweet of Swanzey. Had issue.
8. Michael Walker, b. 1 March 1667; buried Feb 1667
9. +Ebenezer Walker, b. “Mid November” 1676
10. Martha, not “of age” in 1680.

Ebenezer Walker, son of Philip & Jane (Metcalf) Walker b. Nov 1676, d. 13 March 1717-18 at Rehoboth MA; He m1) 19 Nov 1700 Mehitable Wilmarth. She d. 27 Oct 1702. He m2) 11 Oct 1703 to Dorothy Abell. She b. 18 Nov 1677 at Rehoboth MA, dau of Lieut. Preserved & Martha (Redaway) Abell. She d. 1 Aug 1741 Rehoboth MA. She married 2d, 13 June 1724 at Rehoboth MA to John Reed. He and his wife renewed the covenant in 1709. They had 11 children. Resided Rehoboth, now Seekonk.
Children of Ebenezer & Dorothy (Abell) Walker [from “Abell Family in America,” by Horace A. Abell]:
1. Joanna Walker, b. 18 July 1704 Rehoboth MA; d 11 July 1787; m. 1724 David Carpenter and had issue.
2. +Caleb Walker, b. 30 Oct 1706 Rehoboth MA
3. Mary Walker, b. 11 Jan 1708-9 Rehoboth MA, twin
4. Dorothy Walker, b. 11 Jan 1708-9 Rehoboth MA, twin
5. John Walker, b. 18 Feb 1710-11, Rehoboth MA
6. Sarah Walker, b. 18 Feb 1710-11 Rehoboth MA
7. Elizabeth Walker, b. 24 March 1711-12 Rehoboth MA
8. Martha Walker, b. 20 July 1714 Rehoboth MA
9. Ebenezer Walker, b. 9 Dec 1716 Rehoboth MA

Caleb Walker, son of Ebenezer & Dorothy (Abell) Walker, b. 30 Oct 1706 at Rehoboth MA, d. 3 Apr 1768 in Rehoboth MA; married abt 1727 in Taunton, Briston Co. MA to Abigail Dean, dau of Dr. Ezra Dean. She b. 10 Dec 1704 in Taunton MA, Ezra & Abigail (Leonard) Dean. She d. 1 Jan 1795. Caleb and his family lived in Rehobeth MA.
Children of Caleb & Abigail (Dean) Walker:
1. Caleb Walker, b. 1 Feb 1728 Rehoboth MA; m. Elizabeth Perrin, d. 4 March 1753
2. Abraham Walker, b. 1 Nov 1731 Rehoboth MA; m. Jemima Bishop; d. 17 Nov 1774
3. Abigail Walker, b. 11 Feb 1733 Rehoboth MA; m. Jonathan Carpenter; d. 2 Feb 1817
4. +Abel Walker, b. 13 May 1736 Rehoboth, Bristol Co MA
5. Comfort Walker, b. 26 May 1739 in Rehoboth MA, d. 1818; m. Methitable Robinson & had issue; d. 14 Apr 1815

Abel Walker, son of Caleb & Abigail (Dean) Walker, b. 13 May 1736 in Rehoboth MA, and d. 17 Feb 1819. He m1) 14 Apr 1763 by Rev. John Carnes to Lois Read, dau of Thomas & Bathsheba (Bosworth) Read [int. 14 Dec 1762]. She b. 27 May 1741, and d. 24 March 1801. He m2) 15 Nov 1801 in Hardwick, Worcester Co MA to his 1st wife’s sister, Bathesheba Read. She b. 7 Sep 1745 in Rehoboth MA, and d. 27 Jan 1819 in Hardwick MA. He served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution; removed to Hardwick in 1779, and bought a farm in the westerly part of the town, to which additions were made as money was acquired. The tillage and improvement of this, almost exclusively occupied him for the remainder of his life. Happy in all his domestic relations, he very seldom went from home, to any considerable distance. True to his Puritan origin, he was scrupulously exact in the performance of every duty devolving on him, and few men enjoyed in a higher degree, the confidence and esteem of the community in which he lived. He and his wife were m. of Cong. ch., in Greenwich, and although the house of worship was about 3 miles from his dwelling, for a long series of years, his seat in the sanctuary was rarely vacant on the Sabbath. Dr. Abel Baker, of Owasco, N. Y., who lived with his grand father dring his youth and early manhood, writes, ” I doubt whether there has been a man, among those with whom I have since become fully acquainted that has more uniformly exemplified the precepts of the Gospel than he did.” He m. 2dly, Nov. 25, 1801, Bathsheba Read, sister of 1st wife, and b. Sept. 7, 1745. (The Walkers of the Old Colony p. 139). // DAR Patriot Index Part III p. 3074 Walker, Abel: b. 5-11-1736 MA d. 2-13-1819 MA m. (1)Lois Read (2) Bathsheba Read Pvt. MA//
Children of Abel & Lois (Read) Walker:
1. Cyril Walker, b. 9 Feb 1764 in Rehoboth, Bristol Co MA; d. 30 Dec 1849 in Seekonk, Bristol Co. MA
2. Lois Walker, b. 18 Oct 1766 in Rehoboth MA
3. +Abel Walker, b. 27 Sep 1770 Rehoboth MA
4. William Walker, b. 29 Oct 1772, d. 30 Jan 1852. He m. 29 Nov 1804 to Eunice
Powers. She b. 10 Aug 1781 and d. 29 May 1828. He m2d) 3 Feb 1830 Mercy Brown.
She b. 19 Dec 1794. Had issue (at least one dau by 1st wife, Eunice Walker, b. 8 ct 1813, m. Hammond Hunt).
5. Abigail Walker, b. 13 Aug 1775 Rehoboth MA
6. Thomas Walker, b. 18 Nov 1777 Rehoboth MA
7. Huldah Walker, b. 29 Oct 1780 Rehoboth MA

Abel Walker II, son of Abel & Lois (Read) Walker, b. 27 Sep 1770 in Rehoboth MA; d. 1811; m. 1797 Mary Snow, dau of Jesse & Mary (Eaton) Snow. She b. 7 March 1775 in Hardwick MA.
Children of Abel & Mary (Snow) Walker:
1. +Alvah Walker, b. 1798
2. Horace Walker, b. 12 Oct 1799 Pelham MA, d. 1803
3. Otis Walker, b. 28 Dec 1800 Pelham MA, d. 1803
4. Cyril Walker, b. 1802, d. 1803
5. Mary Walker, b. 1804
6. Harriet Walker, b. 1806
7. Vashita Walker, b. 1808, d. 1895
8. Abel Walker, b. 1810, d. 1901; m1) Sarah Snow Allen; m2) 1866 Elizabeth R. Turner.

Alvah Walker, son of Abel II & Mary (Snow) Walker, b. 9 Apr 1798 in Pelham, Hampshire Co MA. He married 1821 to Vesta Whitcomb, dau of James & Polly (Hinds) Whitcomb. She b. 5 Apr 1801 in Greenwich MA. In 1880 Vesta was a widow living in Oswego NY with her son Alvah and family. Alvah was a carpenter, and self-taught doctor. He was also a freethinker and abolitionist.
U.S. Census > 1850 United States Federal Census > New York > Oswego > Oswego
Alvah Walker 50 M Carpenter 1000 Mass
Vesta Walker 49 F Mass
Mary Walker 18 F NY
Alvah Walker 16 M Student NY
1860 United States Federal Census > New York > Oswego > Oswego
Alvah Walker 63 M Master Carpenter 2000/912 Massachusetts
Vesta Walker 60 F Massachusetts
Children of Alvah & Vesta (Whitcomb) Walker:
1. Abel Walker, b. 1822, d. 1882
2. Vista/Vesta A. Walker, b. 1823
3. Aurora B. Walker, b. 1825; m. bef 1850 to Lyman Coates; resided Oswego NY; had at least one ch, dau Vesta L. Coats, b. abt 1853 NY
4. Luna Walker, b. 24 Feb 1827
5. Cynthia M. Walker, b. 13 Nov 1828, d. 20 Feb 1849
6. +Mary Edwards Walker, b. 26 Nov 1832 Oswego NY, d. 21 February 1919; On 19 Nov 1855 she married another physician, Eber Albert Miller. He b. 7 Apr 1831 in Virgil, Cortland Co NY and d. 21 Apr 1913. They divorced after 13 yrs of marriage. No children. She was buried in a black suit in her family plot in Oswego Township cemetery. In 1990 US Census she is shown living in Oswego NY.
7. Alvah H. Walker, b. 26 Dec 1833; m. Sarah Jane Miller. They had a daughter Mina V. b. abt 1864. In 1880 living in Oswego NY.


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2 Responses to Not New Hampshire: Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919)

  1. Patricia Walker Hefelfinger says:

    I am thrilled and delighted with your info on my relative Dr, Mary E. Walker. Just found out about her two months ago. Thank you for exactly what I have been searching for. I am a genealogy buff and have the family tree book from my ancestor John Walker Kirby. Durkee Walker Kirby and I am deeply grateful to you for your profound generousity of spirit to share this with the Walker Family. I and my family am the daughter of James A. Walker and granddaughter of Gerald Smith Walker from Walker Valley New York. Founded by my forefathers. If you would know Ann Walker, who was instrumental in reinstating the medal please let me know or any one else. I would like to dedicate a statue to Walker Valley in her name..Many grateful thanks, Patti Walker

  2. Pingback: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker | Cow Hampshire

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