Arago: Exhibits

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Caring for the Wounded in the Civil War: Phoebe Pember and Mary Edwards Walker

Phoebe Pember (1823-1913) was born to a wealthy and prominent family in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1862, widowed and childless, she accepted an offer to work as a nurse and administrator of Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, Virginia - the largest military hospital in the world during the Civil War. She managed the care and diets for over 700 patients housed in the hospital, and regulated the supply of whisky for medical purposes only. After the war Phoebe wrote her autobiography, A Southern Woman’s Story, which continues to be a valuable record of the conditions of hospitals during the Civil War.

Mary Walker (1832-1919) was the second American woman to earn her medical degree. She volunteered to work as a field surgeon for the Union Army, employed first as a civilian before being accepted as an employee. She not only treated the wounded, but also crossed the front lines to treat injured civilians, once getting captured and imprisoned by the Confederates. She became the first woman officer ever exchanged as a prisoner of war for a man of the same rank. In 1865, Dr. Walker became the first (and so far only) woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for Meritorious Service. After the war, she continued to advocate women’s rights and dress reform, refusing to wear restrictive women’s clothing. In 1917, her Medal of Honor was one of 900 that the U.S. Army rescinded, but Mary refused to return it. In 1977 her medal was reinstated.

32c Phoebe Pember single

The Phoebe Pember stamp was issued on June 29, 1995.

20c Mary Walker single

The Mary Walker stamp was issued on June 10, 1982 to honor her receipt of the Medal of Honor.