U.S. Mint Releases Civil War Surgeon Dr. Mary E. Walker Quarter

As part of its four year American Women Quarter series, the U.S. Mint has released a quarter honoring Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon who was awarded the Medal of Honor despite being a civilian.

Dr. Mary E. Walker, wearing her Medal of Honor.

Dr. Walker was born in Oswego, New York in 1832. She graduated from Syracuse Medical College in 1855, and at the time she was one of the few female physicians in the country. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Walker traveled to Washington DC and applied for a commission as an army surgeon and was rejected. She stayed on in Washington, and worked as an unpaid volunteer in various camps and at a hospital that occupied the U.S. Patent Office. In late 1862, she traveled to Virginia and treated the wounded of the Fredericksburg Campaign, still as a volunteer. In 1863, she traveled to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and treated the wounded from the Battle of Chickamauga. She was finally successful in her quest to become a paid army surgeon when Major General George Thomas appointed her as a Contract Assistant Surgeon (a civilian position) for his Army of the Cumberland, thus making her the first official female U.S. Army surgeon. She was assigned to the 52nd Ohio Infantry. Walker was not afraid to risk her life in the pursuit of her duties, and in the spring of 1864, Walker was taken prisoner by the Confederates. She spent four months in Rebel prisons until she was exchanged.

At the end of the war, Walker again requested a military commission in recognition of her service, which was denied. However, she was awarded the Medal of Honor for meritorious service even though she was officially a civilian, and to date is the only woman to receive the award.

After the war, Walker continued as a physician and was active in the suffragette movement. She was also known for her controversial choice of wearing men’s clothing, something that was quite scandalous at the time. She was subjected to ridicule and even arrest for her choice; she argued that it was much easier to do her work and more comfortable than the hoop skirts and corsets of the time. Walker died in her home town of Oswego in 1919.

As with all quarters in this series, the front of the coin features a portrait of George Washington. The back of the coin features a portrait of Walker wearing her Medal of Honor. These coins are actual quarters in circulation, and not commemorative medals. They entered circulation on June 3rd, 2024.


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