Elevate Difference

Dr. Mary Walker: An American Radical, 1832-1919

Dr. Mary Walker: An American Radical, 1832-1919 is a plethora of facts, evidence, and tightly woven themes that are well-researched by Harris, yet the book isn’t boring or dry. I found it inspirational and enraging at the same time. Women of the past made it easier for women today by tirelessly battling for women’s rights (and for men who were not white property owners). Walker was a dutiful and energetic soldier. She served in the Union army during the civil war as a commissioned medical officer although she had to fight to get that official position.

Harris’ work reveals that Walker spent every waking moment living the fight for equality and justice for all. When other physicians slammed her for treating the working class (that were considered beneath male doctors), she kept on. Men and women alike ridiculed her for even believing she had the brains to be a registered physician, but she persevered.

Being a female activist back then was quite difficult. The suffragists, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were adept at bickering and jockeying for centre stage, and Walker was no exception. Gaining the right to vote in the U.S. (eighteen months after Walker’s death) has not erased these divisions among activists today. From personal experience, I can attest to being treated as invisible by many middle class activists because I’m a sole-supporting parent and working class.

As a radical, Walker could not walk down the street without being physically assaulted for not wearing feminine clothes. Bricks, food, and yells often greeted her as she carried on her way. Today, nobody throws bricks at me while walking out in public, but men still stop their cars to yell at me if they don’t like what I wear. After reading about Walker’s experiences, I took some comfort in knowing that while we have made progress since Walker’s time, we still have a long way to go before all men, women, and children are treated with the respect they are due.

Walker is an example of how we need to continue to fight to be given the same rights as the more privileged members of society. Harris presents Walker in a balanced light that made me want to keep reading until the final page. Maybe in a hundred years, women will not only be able to vote, but also get paid on par with men and walk down the street knowing they are safe.

Written by: Nicolette Westfall, March 1st 2010