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Mary Edwards Walker Papers

An inventory of her papers at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Walker, Mary Edwards, 1832-1919.
Title: Mary Edwards Walker Papers
Inclusive Dates: 1799-1990
Bulk Dates: 1860-1919
Quantity: 4 linear ft.
Abstract: Papers of the physician, social reformer, native of Oswego, N.Y. Advocate of dress reform and women's suffrage. Collection includes correspondence (1833-1913), mainly from Dr. Walker's lecture tour of Britain in 1866-67 and from her Civil War service, 1862-65; legal and financial documents, including deeds, wills, and material concerning her divorce and employment at the Federal Pension Office; photographs; and writings, including material on the trial of Frank C. Almay in 1891, lectures, pamphlets, and reminiscences.
Language: English
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

Mary Edwards Walker (Nov. 26, 1832- Feb. 21, 1919) was an American Civil War medical worker, dress reformer, and eccentric. She was born in Oswego Town near Oswego, N.Y., the daughter of Vesta (Whitcomb) Walker, a cousin of the agnostic lecturer Robert C. Ingersoll, and Alvah Walker, farmer, Methodist, self-taught student of medicine, and, like his wife, a descendant of early New England settlers. (See Whitcomb Family Tree and Walker Family Tree.) Mary had four older sisters (including Luna and Aurora Borealis) and a younger brother. After studying in the local common school, she attended Falley Seminary, Fulton, N.Y., for two winter terms (1850-52) and, after teaching briefly, entered Syracuse Medical College in December 1853. Graduating in 1855, she practiced for a few months in Columbus, Ohio, and then returned to Rome, N.Y. Small and slender, assertive but not unattractive, she was married in November to Albert Miller of Rome, a fellow medical student. Though she never adopted his name, the two practiced medicine together in Rome for several years.

As a girl Walker had scorned confining female clothing, and when the "bloomer" vogue flourished briefly in the early 1850s she adopted the new costume with alacrity. In January 1857 she joined Lydia Sayer Hasbrouck of Middletown, N.Y., and others in a dress reform convention and began contributing regularly to Mrs. Hasbrouck's reformist periodical, the Sibyl. In 1859 occurred a painful separation from her husband, occasioned by his unfaithfulness and possibly by conjugal incompatibility. She unsuccessfully sought a divorce in Iowa the following year; eventually, in 1869, she won a New York decree. During the Iowa interlude she briefly attended the Bowen Collegiate Institute in Hopkinton, but was suspended when she refused to resign from the hitherto all-male debating society.

When the Civil War broke out, Walker journeyed to Washington and, while vainly seeking appointment as an army surgeon, served as an unpaid volunteer in the Patent Office Hospital and helped organize the Women's Relief Association, to aid women visiting relatives stationed in the capital. She continued her work in 1862, with time off for visits to Oswego and to New York City, where she stayed long enough to earn a degree from the New York Hygeio-Therapeutic College. That autumn she ventured into the Virginia battle zone and, though still without official standing, rendered assistance at tent hospitals in Warrenton and Fredericksburg. In September 1863 she went to Tennessee and at last won appointment as an assistant surgeon from Gen. George H. Thomas, despite sharp protests from the medical director of the Army of the Cumberland and from the men of the 52nd Ohio Regiment, encamped near Gordon's Mills, Tenn., to which she was assigned. She wore the same uniform as that of her fellow officers. She often passed through Confederate lines to minister to the medical needs of the civilian populace, and while on such a foray in April 1864 she was captured and transported to Richmond, where she was imprisoned for several months. In August she was freed in a prisoner exchange and returned to Washington. Given a contract as an "acting assistant surgeon" later that year, she rendered brief service as supervisor of a hospital for women prisoners in Louisville, Ky., and then as head of an orphanage in Clarksville, Tenn. Her imperious ways and tactlessness, however, antagonized both her subordinates and the local citizenry; early in 1865 she was ordered to Washington and shortly thereafter she left the government's service. Later in the year she received the Congressional Medal of Honor for Meritorious Service.

As a Civil War celebrity Dr. Walker enjoyed a brief fame in the immediate postwar years. In 1866 the dwindling adherents of the National Dress Reform Association elected her president, and in the same year she met with some success on an English lecture tour. Returning to the United States in 1867, she lived for a few years with a young Washington teacher and would-be attorney, Belva Lockwood, and for a time the two women jointly promoted various feminist causes, particularly woman suffrage. Walker was active in the Central Women's Suffrage Bureau of Washington and made occasional appearances at Congressional hearings. In 1869, on a lecture tour of the Midwest, she participated in a Cincinnati suffrage convention attended by Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony, and in 1872 she made an unsuccessful effort to vote in Oswego Town. She rapidly alienated the suffragists, however, because of her growing eccentricity and because, having persuaded herself that women already possessed the right to vote under the federal Constitution, she rejected as "trash" the proposed suffrage amendment. Though the suffragists were quite ready to publicize and magnify her war service to aid the feminist cause, she herself became an increasingly unwelcome gadfly at suffrage gatherings. By 1907, when she set down her suffrage views in a pamphlet called Crowning Constitutional Argument, she was virtually without influence. Her medical proficiency was often challenged, and she enjoyed no standing in that profession; apparently she did not practice after the war. Her unremitting efforts to secure a pension for her war duty were only partially successful. She also sought to return to government service and in 1882 was given a job in the mail room of the Pension Office. She was dismissed the following year, however, for alleged insubordination.

Only dress reform remained, but this too turned into eccentricity when she adopted as her regular garb not only trousers but a masculine jacket, shirt, stiff wing collar, bow tie, and top hat. Cut off even from those sympathetic to this reform, she became increasingly an object of ridicule. She had earlier turned to writing and had produced Hit (1871), a rambling autobiographical and speculative work, and Unmasked, or the Science of Immorality (1878), which with its extended discussion of various sexual matters, including a chapter on "hermaphrodites," perhaps provides a clue to her own confused and unhappy personality. In 1887 she made the first of several Midwestern tours in a dime museum sideshow. She spent most of her time after 1890 in Oswego Town, where the family farm had come into her hands. Here she was thought a harmless eccentric, though her behavior at times was less than benign, as in 1891 when she undertook an elaborate campaign to implicate her hired man in a New Hampshire murder, apparently in an effort to collect the $5,000 reward.

Old age brought no tranquillity. She was forever involved in litigation with relatives and tenants, and a vague plan to turn her farm into a training school for young ladies came to nothing. In 1917 the federal Board of Medal Awards, as part of a general review, declared that her Civil War citation had been unwarranted and officially withdrew it. She continued to wear her Medal of Honor, however, representing as it did a fading period when her life had held some dignity and meaning. In the same year came a final heady burst of publicity when she sent a long telegram to Kaiser Wilhelm offering her Oswego farm as a peace conference site. Now alone and poverty-stricken, she was largely ignored even by her relatives. A fall from the Capitol steps in Washington in 1917 hastened her death two years later, at eighty-six, in the home of a neighbor. Following simple ceremonies she was buried in her black frock suit in the family plot in the Oswego Town rural cemetery.

[Biographical sketch taken from Notable American Women (1971).]

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Mary Edwards Walker Papers comprise Correspondence, Legal and financial documents, Memorabilia, Pension documents, and Writings of Mary Edwards Walker. Principal dated items in the collection span the years 1799 to 1919, but the years 1863 to 1895 are the most heavily represented. There is one folder of modern newsclippings, mostly relating to the reinstatement of her Congressional Medal of Honor.

Correspondence is chronologically arranged and consists of 339 letters, notes, and telegrams, including letters sent as enclosures, from the years 1833 to 1913. Nearly half of the collection's letters date from Walker's 1866-67 lecture tour of Britain. The years of her service in the Civil War, 1862 to 1865, also are represented. Two hundred ninety-nine items of correspondence, spanning the years 1852 to 1913, are addressed to Walker and discuss, among other subjects, arrangements for her post-Civil War tours and lectures, her book Hit, and her pension claims. Among her correspondents are the reformers Lydia Sayer Hasbrouck and Belva Ann Lockwood; physicians Charles Alfred Lee, Ann Preston, and George Miller Sternberg; political wives Mary Baird Bryan and Frances Folsom Cleveland; military and political figures James Heaton Baker, Jacob Collamer, William Lawrence, and Edward Davis Townsend; and the novelist Mary Andrews Denison. Many letters are from admirers on both sides of the Atlantic, but little of the correspondence deals exclusively with medicine or her livelihood as a physician. Fourteen items of correspondence, dated 1888 and 1889, are from a correspondent signing as "Earl Bryant," who offered to perform domestic work for her. There are eight holograph letters of Mary Edwards Walker, which date from 1863 to 1877, and one undated holograph note.

Included in the chronological arrangement of correspondence are twenty-four letters that relate to Walker, among them a letter from Albert Miller to a Walker relative, letters of recommendation, and letters of introduction. Seven other letters, dated between 1842 and 1860, are addressed to John Whitbeck Hasbrouck (1821-1906), publisher with his wife Lydia Sayer Hasbrouck of the Sibyl, and may have been a gift from the Hasbroucks to Walker's autograph collection; among Hasbrouck's correspondents are William H. Seward and the publishers Louis A. Godey, Horace Greeley, and Joseph W. Harper. The earliest letters in the Mary Edwards Walker Papers are dated 1833 and 1834 and are addressed to Walker (1804-1895), an aunt of Dr. Walker.

Undated letters, arranged alphabetically by correspondents' names, and letters that have no year dates, arranged by month, are filed at the end of the correspondence section. Letters dated only to year are filed ahead of other letters of the same year, and letters mailed as enclosures are kept with their covering letters. A complete file-card name index of the correspondents is available in the Manuscripts Division.

Legal and financial documents date principally from 1861 to 1895 and relate mostly to her divorce and her government employment in the Pension Office. Several items detail her successive attempts to win a divorce from Albert Miller: four copies of an 1861 New York decree in her favor, an 1866 New York Assembly bill exempting her, on the basis of her service in the Civil War, from the five-year limit on divorce actions, affadavits by Nelson Whittlesey and L.J. Worden on the infidelities of Albert Miller, and miscellaneous items.

A group of statements and reports that describes her employment in 1882 and 1883 at the Pension Office in Washington and the circumstances of her dismissal were generated by her unsuccessful attempts to gain reinstatement. There are copies of the wills of father Alvah Miller and aunt Mary Walker (1804-1895), a deed and an abstract of title to land owned by Dr. Walker in Oswego, N.Y., and, among other bills and receipts, a small number of receipts from her 1866-67 lecture tour of Britain.

Memorabilia of Walker's career, travels, and interests are arranged under descriptive headings in the memorabilia section. These items date principally from 1860 to 1919. There are eleven items, mostly cut signatures (among them autographs of Stephen A. Douglas, Millard Fillmore, and William H. Seward), that may have been part of Walker's autograph collection.

Among the items of printed memorabilia are handbill advertisements of her lectures, odd items of medical interest, and nineteen newspapers, fourteen of which are Confederate, mostly from Richmond, including two newspapers published for soldiers. A listing of the newspapers, arranged by city, appears in the shelflist. Twelve folders of newspaper clippings, mostly domestic, are arranged by subject, there-under by date, and relate to Mary Edwards Walker, her activities, her interests, and her acceptance by the public.

Several items relate to the movement for women's rights. Among them are an undated printed cartoon with a verse that concludes, "You are too bold to be my Valentine"; the 15 June 1860 number of the Sibyl; and an 1869 National Women's Suffrage Association leaflet that contains its constitution and plan of organization. Two items, besides the newspapers, have a Confederate association: a sheet of Confederate bonds dated 1864 and a folder of sample swatches of Confederate homespun.

Eight photographs, the subjects of which are itemized in the shelflist, include four portraits of Walker and portraits of relatives. Among other items of family memorabilia is a group of papers of Byron Worden, a nephew of Walker. Some miscellaneous items are an 1850 Massachusetts Thanksgiving Day broadside, a booklet map "Guide to Mount Vernon" of circa 1861, a leaflet entitled "Train Extra" promoting an 1869 lecture by George Francis Train (1829-1904), a poster for a 1990 SUNY Oswego performance titled "Dr. Mary E. Walker Speaks: A Performance Based on the Life and Words of Mary E. Walker," a scrapbook of printed clippings, and a holograph Thanksgiving sermon dated 1799, the earliest item in the collection.

Mary Edwards Walker's long efforts to obtain a government pension in recognition of her Civil War service are demonstrated by Pension documents, material that includes pension legislation introduced in the Congress on her behalf between 1872 and 1888, accompanying committee reports, documents relating to her service with the Union Army, an 1897 copy of President Andrew Johnson's 1865 citation granting her the Congressional Medal of Honor, and miscellaneous items.

The Writings of Mary Edwards Walker, as found in this collection, date from 1866 to 1907. Her published writings are represented by the book Unmasked, or The Science of Immorality (in a microfilm copy) and by copies of her pamphlets Crowning Constitutional Argument and Isonomy. Other writings are in either holograph or typescript form. Drafts of her arguments in the Almy Reward case, a summary of the case, and other related materials were generated by her involvement in the 1891 trial of Frank C. Almy for the murder of Christie Warden and the subsequent litigation to distribute the reward money. There are two lectures, the subjects of which are given in the inventory below, bills proposed by Walker to Congress, published letters to the editor, and nine brief reminiscences, largely of her experiences during the Civil War, that amount to thirty-seven typescript pages of anecdotal material.

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Related Material

For further biographical information, see the master's thesis "Dr. Mary E. Walker: A Biographical Sketch" by Dorris Moore Lawson (Syracuse University, 1954), a copy of which is deposited in the Syracuse University Archives.

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Subject Headings


Almay, Frank C.
Baker, James H. (James Heaton), 1829-1913.
Bryan, Mary Baird, 1861-1930.
Cleveland, Frances Folsom, 1864-1947.
Collamer, Jacob, 1791-1865.
Denison, Mary A. (Mary Andrews), 1826-1911.
Hasbrouck, Lydia Sayer, 1827-1910.
Lee, Charles A. (Charles Alfred), 1801-1872.
Lockwood, Belva Ann, 1830-1917.
Sternberg, George Miller, 1838-1915.
Townsend, E. D. (Edward Davis), 1817-1893.
Walker, Mary Edwards, 1832-1919.


Clothing and dress.
Divorce suits.
Lectures and lecturing.
Military pensions -- United States -- Civil War, 1861-1865.
Suffragists -- United States.
Women -- Health and hygiene.
Women authors, American.
Women physicians -- United States.
Women social reformers -- United States.
Women's rights -- United States.


United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Hospitals.
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Medical care.
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives.
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Women.

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Mary Edwards Walker Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Mrs. Eric W. (Dorris Moore) Lawson, 1954.
Correspondence, photograph, and printed material, Transfer, 1971.
Photograph of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker in man's attire, gift of Miss Arsine Schmavonian, 1973.
Modern clippings about Mary Edwards Walker, various sources, 1962-1976.

Finding Aid Information

Created by: EL
Date: Feb 1976
Revision history: 18 Apr 2007 - converted to EAD (AMCon); 21 Aug 2013 - corrections, Writings by others (MRC); 4 May 2022 - number of lectures updated in Scope and Content (MRC); 30 Nov 2022 - poster added to collection, flattened oversize item rehoused in oversize box, extent and Scope and Content updated (DTF)

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Box 1 General 1833-1834, 1842, 1849, 1852, 1856-1857 (7 folders)
Box 1 General 1860-1865 (6 folders)
Box 1 General 1866 (6 folders)
Box 1 General 1867 (9 folders)
Box 1 General 1868-1872 (5 folders)
Box 2 General 1873-1874, 1876-1878, 1885-1889 (10 folders)
Box 2 General 1893-1895, 1897-1898 (5 folders)
Box 2 General 1901-1903, 1911, 1913 (5 folders)
Box 2 Partially dated
Box 2 Undated
Box 2 Drafts and fragments undated
Box 2 Envelopes not matched with letters (15 items)
Legal and financial documents
Box 2 Bills and receipts 1819-1893
Box 2 Deed and abstract of title to land in Oswego, N.Y. 1877, 1882
Box 2 Divorce material 1861-1869, undated
Box 2 Pension Office employment 1883, undated
Box 2 Wills 1881-1895, undated
Box 2 Autograph collection, various dates (11 items)
Box 2 About Mary Edwards Walker 1867-1896, 1911-1913, 1953-1976, undated (6 folders)
Box 2 Dress reform 1884-1913, 1866, undated
Box 2 Obituary notices 1919
Box 2 Obituary notices of others 1892-1895
Box 2 References to Mary Edwards Walker 1892-1913, undated
Box 2 Miscellaneous clippings 1896-1913, undated (2 folders)
Box 2 Confederate memorabilia circa 1864 (2 items)
Family memorabilia
Box 2 Broadside verse, "On the death of Alanson [Snow]" undated
Box 2 Genealogical data 1808-1903, undated
Box 2 Papers of Byron Worden 1906-1907
Box 2 Lecture handbills 1866, 1867, undated
Box 2 Medical memorabilia 1860-1866, undated
Box 2 [Atlanta, GA] Daily Chronicle & Sentinel 17 April 1864
Box 2 Catskill Recorder and Greene County Republican 28 May 1829
Box 2 Chattanooga [TN] Daily Gazette 6 September 1864
Box 2 [Marietta, GA.] The Chattanooga Daily Rebel 13 April 1864
Box 2 [Richmond, VA] Daily Dispatch 12 August 1864
Box 3 [Richmond, VA] The Daily Richmond Enquirer 30 May 1864
Box 3 [Richmond, VA] Daily Richmond Examiner 9 May 1864
Box 3 Richmond Christian Advocate 5 May 1864
Box 3 Richmond Examiner 11 July 1864
Box 3 Richmond Examiner 3 August 1864
Box 3 Richmond Examiner 5 August 1864
Box 3 Richmond Examiner 9 August 1864
Box 3 Richmond Examiner 10 August 1864
Box 3 [Richmond, VA] The Soldier's Paper 15 April 1864
Box 3 [Richmond, VA] The Soldier's Visitor circa April 1864 - fragment
Oversize 1 The Sibyl 15 June 1860
Box 3 [Troy, NY] Daily Troy Sentinel 20 January 1831
Box 3 Troy Sentinel 17 April 1832
Box 3 Troy Sentinel 11 May 1832 - fragment?
Box 3 [Washington, D.C.] The National Republican 27 October 1881
Box 3 "Mrs. Katherine L. Edwards" 1908
Box 3 "A. Walker's new house" undated
Box 3 "Alvah Walker" undated
Box 3 "Charles A. Walker" undated
Box 3 "Dr. Mary Edwards Walker in man's attire" undated
Box 3 "Mary E. Walker, M.D." undated (3 items)
Portraits other than photographs
Box 3 Cut-paper silhouettes undated (16 items)
Box 3 Printed halftone portrait of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker undated (5 copies)
Box 3 Women's rights memorabilia 1860-1869, undated (3 items)
Box 3 Ephemera 1850, circa 1861-1870, 1876 - printed material
Oversize 1 Poster 1990 - "Dr Mary E. Walker speaks: a performance based on the life and words of Dr. Mary E Walker," SUNY Oswego
Box 3 Scrapbook circa 1838
Box 3 Sermon 1799 - handwritten, 16 pages
Box 3 Social mementos 1872-1881, undated (8 items)
Box 3 Travel notes circa 1867 - handwritten (4 items)
Box 3 Verse, handwritten 1839-1894, undated (6 items)
Box 3 Verse, printed 1904, undated (3 items)
Box 3 Unidentified handwritten fragments 1871, undated - handwritten
Box 3 Unidentified printed material 1878-1888, undated
Pension documents
Box 3 Affidavit of Cary C. Conklin 1873
Box 3 Citation by President Andrew Johnson granting Dr. Mary E. Walker the Congressional Medal of Honor 1897 - copy dated
Congressional bills and reports
Box 3 42nd Congress, House bill 1858, 1872 - printed material
Box 3 45th Congress, House report No. 896, House bill 5057, Senate bill 1645 1878-1879 - printed material
Box 3 46th Congress, Senate report No. 237 1880 - printed material (2 copies)
Box 3 48th Congress, House bill [no number] circa 1884 - handwritten
Box 3 49th Congress, House bill 5043 1886 - printed material
Box 3 50th Congress, House reports Nos. 602, 640 , and 1846; House bill 4265; Senate bill 1041 1887-1888
Box 3 Congressional Record, containing the Senate debate on a pension increase for Mary Edwards Walker 4 July 1898 - printed material with annotations in Walker's handwriting
Box 3 Congressional reports on bills for the relief of persons other than Mary E. Walker 1884-1888 - printed material
Box 3 Military service documents 1863-1865
Box 3 Miscellaneous items 1873, undated
Arguments in the Almy Reward case
Box 3 "Almy Reward Argument" to the Supreme Court of the State of New Hampshire circa 1895 - Draft A, annotated typescript, 12 pages
Box 3 "Almy Reward Argument" to the Supreme Court of the State of New Hampshire circa 1895 - Draft B, annotated typescript, 34 pages
Box 3 "Report" with "Almy Reward Contest" circa 1895 - report is 11 pages, other is 4 pages, annotated typescript
Box 3 Untitled memorandum circa 1895 - handwritten, 1 page
Bills proposed to Congress
Box 3 "A bill to prevent losses of merchandise [in the mails]" and "Memorial regarding postal laws" undated, undated - 2 pages, handwritten and 2 pages, handwritten
Box 3 "Bill to protect the women citizens of the United States and territories" 1873 - fragment, printed material
Box 4 Unmasked, or the Science of Immorality (Philadelphia) 1878 - microfilm copy of Library of Congress Copyright Office deposit copy
Box 4 Unmasked, or the Science of Immorality (Philadelphia) 1878 - photocopy
Box 4 On my capture and imprisonment, Introduction undated - 3 pages, handwritten
Box 4 On Washington, the seat of the government circa 1866 - 35 pages, handwritten [?]
Box 4 Letters to the editor 1875, 1888 - printed material
Box 4 Crowning Constitutional Arguement (Oswego, N.Y.) 1907
Box 4 Isonomy 1898
Box 4 Incidents connected with the Army undated - 37 pages, typescript
Box 4 On Mary Edwards Walker undated - 6 pages, handwritten
By others
Box 4 Commencement of Syracuse Medical College 1855 - photocopy of original, as published in the American Medical and Surgical Journal, Vol. VII, No. 4
Box 4 On women's dress, "By Prof. G. Edwin Churchill" undated - 1 page, handwritten copy

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