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Lida Poynter collection on Dr. Mary E. Walker


Held at: Drexel University: College of Medicine Legacy Center [Contact Us]

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Drexel University: College of Medicine Legacy Center. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

The Lida Poynter collection on Dr. Mary E. Walker consists of Poynter’s unpublished manuscript and research notes on the life of Dr. Mary E. Walker. Mary E. Walker (1832-1919) was a physician who served as a surgeon during the Civil War. She was awarded the Medal of Honor for her service and remains the only woman to have received the Medal. Throughout her life, she wrote, lectured and taught on medicine, dress reform, suffrage, and women’s rights.

Lida Poynter, in the forward to her manuscript (housed in Box 5), states that "this volume is not offered as a resume of the history of abolition or temperance, dress reform or sumptuary laws, politics or spiritualism, woman suffrage or philanthropy, but each and all of these factors [which] helped to form the environment and wield the influences in the midst of which Mary Walker was born and lived." While it is unclear when Poynter began her research, she began in part because she "came to feel a strong resentment that the real Mary Walker should be practically unknown to history because she was so obscured and, to all intents and purposes, concealed by the one thing which the world has mocked and censured and for the most part, misunderstood." The manuscript appears to have been completed in 1946, and the last page of the document reads, "there sleeps Dr. Mary Walker, pioneer woman physician, pioneer suffragist, comforter and helper of the soldiers and their dependents, friend of the destitute and abused, philanthopist ... a woman entitled to burial in Arlington, the forgotten woman."

Mary Edwards Walker was born on November 26, 1832 in Oswego, New York, the daughter of Alvah, a physician, and Vesta Whitcomb Walker. Her family was abolitionist and progressive, and therefore, “much of Dr. Walker’s tendency towards non-conformity may be attributed to her parents who, among other things, believed their daughters should receive a professional education” (Gleason, page 1). Thus encouraged, Walker received her degree in medicine from the eclectic Syracuse Medical College, graduating as the only woman in her class in 1855.

Following her graduation, Walker moved to Columbus, Ohio to practice medicine, but returned to Oswego, New York the same year. On November 19, 1855, Walker married Albert E. Miller, also a physician and a former classmate at Syracuse Medical College. Together, they moved to Rome, New York where they began practicing medicine. By 1859, Walker had discovered “her husband’s philandering ways [and] the couple separated,” (Rutkow, page 489). Walker moved to Iowa in order to obtain a divorce. Even though she did not receive the divorce, she did practice medicine in that state until 1861. During this time, she began lecturing on medical topics, temperance, and dress reform, as well as other topics. She also wrote for the magazine Sybil.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Walker was denied a commission as a medical officer as the “Surgeon General [was] reluctant to break with an ‘all male’ tradition,” (Rutkow, page 489). Despite this, in 1861, Walker volunteered, working as a nurse at the Indiana Hospital in Washington, DC; and while there, helped found the Women’s Relief Association. However, since she was “lacking official duties in Washington, she eventually enrolled at New York City’s Hygeia Therapeutic College, where she obtained another medical degree in March 1862,” (Rutkow, page 489). When she returned to Washington, DC in 1862, she worked for the Union Army in Virginia, as a volunteer physician. Between 1862 and 1864, she served in Tennessee, was taken as a Confederate prisoner of war, imprisoned in Richmond, Virginia, and released in August 1864. Finally in late 1864, General George H. Thomas appointed Walker as contract surgeon to the Ohio 52nd Infantry, but “her request for field duty was denied [and instead] she was named surgeon to the Female Military Prison [in] Louisville, Kentucky,” (Rutkow, page 489). Although there is no documentation, many believe that Walker served as a spy for the North. On January 24, 1866, Mary Edwards Walker received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Today, she is still the only woman to receive this award.

Following the Civil War, Walker focused on topics relating to women’s rights and traveled throughout the United States and England lecturing. She was an active citizen and petitioned both the New York and United States governments for improvements on issues of concern to her. According to Gleason, “Walker had very progressive opinions regarding marriage and divorce [and] was an outspoken opponent of alcohol and tobacco use but very tolerant in her religion,” (page 2). In 1866, she was elected president of the National Dress Reform Association and eventually dressed entirely in men’s clothing. Walker authored two books, Hit, published in 1871, and Unmasked or the Science of Immortality, published in 1878. Over the years, she was increasingly seen as eccentric.

In 1917, her Congressional Medal of Honor was rescinded along with 910 others when the requirements for receiving the Medal of Honor were changed; however, she refused to return it to the government. She died on February 21, 1919 at the age of 86. The Congressional Medal of Honor was restored to her on June 10, 1977.


Gleason, Kerry, Nancy Osborne, and Ed Vermue. “Mary Edwards Walker, M.D.: A Bibliography.” State University of New York Oswego, Archives and Special Collections. (, accessed May 9, 2011.

Rutkow, Ira. M., M.D., MPH, DrPH. “Mary Edward Walker,” Archives of Surgery, Volume 135, April 2000.

Lida Poynter devoted a great deal of time writing a biography of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker. This collection consists of her unpublished manuscript, her research notes, newspaper clippings, and correspondence (which includes original letters to and from Mary E. Walker).

The unpublished manuscript is typed and totals 436 pages. The manuscript contains no citations. The bulk of the collection consists of Poynter's research notes, of which there are approximately 12,000 sheets. Some these notes refer to journal citations, but most of the notes have newspaper clippings affixed to them. These newspaper clippings include articles on women which appeared in several newspapers from New York, Omaha, Georgia and Boston during the period from 1928 to 1931. In addition, correspondence is sometimes affixed to the notes. This correspondence includes letters to and from Mary Walker (19th century) and to and from Lida Poynter (1930s). The notes are arranged numerically as they were taken, however, since the manuscript is not footnoted and no draft of the manuscript is available, there is no direct reference between the manuscript and the notes.

Forty-two photographs of Mary Walker which Poynter collected “from various sources” are also part of this collection.

Since the collection contains many original Walker letters, it is a valuable resource for primary source material on Mary Walker. It is also an interesting collection of newspaper articles which reflect the press’s representation of women during the late 1920s and early 1930s. It is important to state, however, that it is impossible to know which particular notes Poynter used to write any given passage or state any particular fact in the manuscript since the manuscript is not footnoted and the “notes” are not arranged chronologically or by subject.

The material was given by Lida Poynter to Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen, and arrived at the College as part of the American Medical Women's Association Historical Collection.

The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.

Finding aid entered into the Archivists' Toolkit by Garrett Boos.

Drexel University: College of Medicine Legacy Center
Finding Aid Date
The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project. Finding aid entered into the Archivists' Toolkit by Garrett Boos.
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.

Collection Inventory

1 typed copy (forward and 25 chapters, 436 pages; chapters XVIII and XIX are missing), 1946.
Box 5

Poynter Correspondence.
Box 1
Poynter Correspondence.
Box 2
Walker Correspondence.
Box 3
Box 4
Box 6
Notes, pages 1-900.
Box 7
Notes, pages 901-1,800.
Box 8
Notes, pages 1,801-2,500.
Box 9
Notes, pages 2,501-3,100.
Box 10
Notes, pages 3,100-3,650.
Box 11
Notes, pages 3,651-3,999.
Box 12
Notes, pages 4,000-4,799.
Box 13
Notes, pages 4,800-5,799.
Box 14
Notes, pages 5,800-6,099.
Box 15
Notes, pages 6,100-6,899.
Box 16
Notes, pages 6,900-7,250.
Box 17
Notes, pages 7,251-7,799.
Box 18
Notes, pages 7,800-8,249.
Box 19
Notes, pages 8,250-8,651.
Box 20
Notes, pages 8,652-8,760.
Box 21
Notes, pages 8,726-8,899.
Box 22
Notes, pages 8,900-9,299.
Box 23
Notes, pages 9,330-9,599.
Box 24
Notes, pages 9,600-9,799.
Box 25
Notes, pages 9,800-10,099.
Box 26
Notes, pages 10,100-10,259.
Box 27
Notes, pages 10,260-10,379.
Box 28
Notes, pages 10,380-10,474.
Box 29
Notes, pages 10,475-10,569.
Box 30
Notes, pages 10,570-10,849.
Box 31
Notes, pages 10,850-10,974.
Box 32
Notes, pages 10,975-11,174.
Box 33
Notes, pages 11,175-11,299.
Box 34
Notes, pages 11,300-11,399.
Box 35
Notes, pages 11,400-11,528.
Box 36
Notes, pages 11,529-11,579.
Box 37

Photographs and drawings of Mary Walker. Several relating to the manuscript and created especially for the manuscript. From various sources, circa 1800s-1900s.
Item 1-42

Print, Suggest