We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2016 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.
On January last year, I wrote about Women on Fire: The Remarkable True Stories of Clara Lemlich and Sarah Emma Edmonds. Today, I’d like to share this picturebook biography of Mary Edwards Walker, one of America’s first woman doctors and the only woman ever awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero
Written by: Cheryl Harness
Illustrated by: Carlo Molinari
Published by: Albert Whitman and Company (2013)
Book borrowed from Wayne County Public Library.
Book photos by me.
“I wish it understood that I wear this style of dress from the highest, the purest, and the noblest principle!” — Mary Walker, 1866
Mary Edwards Walker was born in 1832 in Oswego, New York. She had always been bold, fierce, and outspoken. She learned how to think for herself and not to get bothered by what people say about her.
“I am the original new woman… Why, before Lucy Stone, Mrs. Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were — before they were, I am. In the early ’40’s, when they began their work in dress reform, I was already wearing pants… I have made it possible for the bicycle girl to wear the abbreviated skirt, and I have prepared the way for the girl in knickerbockers.” — Mary Walker, 1897
Mary Edwards Walker was a “breath of fresh air” during the 1800s, a time when it was customary for women to wear skirts and men were the only ones recognized to vote and practice medicine. With conviction and fire in her heart, Mary broke barriers. She wore pants so she could move more freely. She gave speeches around the country and campaigned for equal civil rights for men and women. She went to Syracuse Medical School and became a doctor.
As an unpaid hospital volunteer, Mary had lots to do: Writing letters for men who couldn’t. Tending bandages and fevers. Finding checkerboards for bored, anxious soldiers on the mend. Raising money for poor people who’d come to help their sick, wounded brothers, sons, fathers, and husbands.
— Excerpt from the book
During the Civil War, Mary wanted to join the army and work as a surgeon. Many times, her request had been denied. Unlike Sarah Emma Edmonds, who worked as nurse, Mary helped care for the sick and wounded soldiers as a doctor. In 1863, two years and thousands of soldiers later, Mary’s efforts were recognized. She was appointed as assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army, a first for the military and a first for women. She served as a surgeon in the 52nd Ohio Infantry Regiment.
One of the biggest challenges Mary had to face was during April 1864, when a Confederate sentry mistook her for a spy because of the unusual way she was dressed. They put her on a train bound for the Confederate capital in Richmond, Virginia where she joined prisoners of war and was imprisoned for four months. She was awarded the Medal of Honor when the Civil War ended and she wore it proudly until she died at the age of 86. Less than a year after her death, the 19th Amendment was ratified, allowing women to vote.
Before reading this book, I had no idea who Mary Edwards Walker was. I was glad I got to learn about her boldness and bravery. Cheryl Harness’s storytelling was lush with details, highlighting significant dates and moments in Mary Walker’s life. Carlo Molinari’s illustrations were stunning, especially the spreads in the book. Mary Walker Wears the Pants is great for teaching about Civil War heroes.
For more information about Mary Edwards Walker, you may visit these websites:
- Changing the Face of Medicine: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker
- NPR Kee Facts: The Only Woman To Get the Medal of Honor
- Congressional Medal of Honor: Women in Military Service
- NBC News: Mary Edwards Walker
- Remarkable Women Veterans in American History
Enjoy the rest of your week!
I love seeing the photos right next to the illustrations. I had no idea they were so closely informed by the photo sources!