After the war, President Andrew Johnson presented her with the Medal of Honor to recognize her dedication and loyalty to the US.
Walker became known for her "radical" views on women's rights and was regarded as a living legend.
Her medal was rescinded in the early 20th century because of changes in the award's regulations, but she refused to give it up and wore it until she died in 1919.
Mary Walker was born in 1832 in Oswego, New York.
Dr. Mary Walker wearing her Medal of Honor, circa 1866.
(U.S. Army Mathew Brady Collection)
Her parents were abolitionists, and they encouraged her to flaunt the rules of women's fashion. She soon began wearing pants, a habit that continued into her adult life.
In 1855, Walker graduated from Syracuse Medical College and became a doctor.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Walker was barred from being an Army surgeon because she was a woman. She volunteered instead, working without pay at hospitals in Washington, DC, and Virginia.
Walker spent four months as a Confederate prisoner of war in Richmond, Virginia.
Despite her service tending to Union Army wounded and her imprisonment, Walker received a smaller pension than that given to war widows.
President Andrew Johnson presented her with the Medal of Honor in November 1865 to thank her for her contributions and her loyalty.
In 1917, due to changes in the medal's regulations, her award was rescinded because she did not engage in direct combat with the enemy.
Walker refused to return her medal and continued to wear it.
According to one legend, when federal marshals attempted to retrieve it in 1917, she opened the door holding a shotgun — and wearing her medal.
She died in 1919 — one year before women were finally allowed to vote.
Dr. Mary E. Walker, circa 1911.
(Library of Congress)
Walker also attracted public scrutiny for her views on women's rights, which were seen as radical. She reportedly voted as early as 1871 — a half-century before women were legally allowed to do so in the US.
President Jimmy Carter reinstated her medal in 1977 to honor her sacrifice and acknowledge the sexism she fought.
In 2012, the town Oswego dedicated of a statue in her honor, drawing people from around the country remember her, according to The Post-Standard of Syracuse, New York.
"I have got to die before people will know who I am and what I have done. It is a shame that people who lead reforms in this world are not appreciated until after they are dead; then the world pays its tributes," Walker once said. That quote is inscribed on part of the statue.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
- Incredible stories of US servicemen who received the Medal of Honor ›
- 'NYPD Blue' sparked big change in TV: bad words, anti-heroes, and ... ›
- US war heroes whose valor was overlooked due to race discrimination ›
- Meet the heroes of the daring rescue mission that brought 13 Thai ... ›
- 7 real-life heroes you've never heard of from the Pearl Harbor attack ... ›