Mary Walker Wears the Pants
written by Cheryl Harness; illustrated by Carlo Molinari
2013 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
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The custom for dress in the 1800s was for women to wear skirts and men wore pants. A woman that wore pants was considered scandalous and improper. Dr. Mary Walker did not care one bit. She wore pants because it allowed her to do her work more efficiently. Being one of the very first female physicians, she was used to causing a stir and was not about to back down. Dr. Walker wanted to help in the Northern war effort from the beginning but was refused a position as a surgeon so she worked as an unpaid volunteer in field hospitals. She was finally accepted in late 1863. Mary created her own officer's coat and trousers and carried pistols for protection. She went behind enemy lines several times to care for wounded soldiers and ended up in a prisoner of war camp for four months in 1864. Following her release from the camp, Mary continued serving by caring for female prisoners and war orphans until the end of the war. She received a Medal of Honor in 1866 for her war service and spent the rest of her life working for dress reform and women's rights.
Mary Walker Wears the Pants is a picture book biography that sheds light on 19th century culture in the United States and on the women's movement. Dr. Walker is an interesting historical figure who could be part of a unit on women's rights. This book would make for a good pairing with 2012 biography Heart on Fire which was about Susan B. Anthony.