One, as of 2018. Dr. Mary Edwards Walker was not only the first woman surgeon in U.S. Military history, she was also the only woman to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest honor given to a citizen of the United States. Hard to believe that no other woman has ever earned this award. Well, they’ve undoubtedly earned the medal, they’ve just never be given the honor.
At the beginning of the American Civil War in 1862, the The New York Tribune wrote, “Dressed in male habiliments … she can amputate a limb with the skill of an old surgeon, and administer medicine equally as well. Strange to say that, although she has frequently applied for a permanent position in the medical corps, she has never been formally assigned to any particular duty.”
Actually, she was – as a nurse – and she turned down the role. She also thought women had always had the right to vote, in that the phrase “We the People” isn’t exclusionary of women, blacks, or anyone. She was arrested in 1866 for wearing pants, a year after Andrew Johnson presented her with the medal for her American Civil War service. This included months of active, front line emergency surgery and amputations, in addition to her capture and imprisonment by the Confederacy in 1864. In 1917, the rules defining eligibility were changed to require ‘combat’, and all medals presented not meeting this criteria were revoked. She kept hers and proudly wore it until she died at the age of 87 in 1919. The rules were reversed by Jimmy Carter in 1977.
The Congressional Medal of Honor is visible in the photo below: