A Woman Ahead of Her Time, a guest post by Sara Latta

When Mary Edwards Walker was a young woman, a mob of boys assaulted her with stones and rotten eggs. Several years later, police officers harassed and on at least two occasions, arrested her.

I Could Not Do Otherwise: The Remarkable Life of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker” (Zest Books, 2022), tells the story of a woman who was bullied and harassed for her gender-bending ways. Born in 1832 in upstate New York near the shores of Lake Ontario, Mary was steeped in her family’s progressive politics. Her parents were abolitionists and supported women’s suffrage. Her father, believing that constricting corsets damaged women’s bodies, advised his wife and daughters against wearing them. Mary would later proudly tell an interviewer, “No, sir; my waist has never been confined in one of those steel traps; it is just as nature intended it should be—free and unconfined.” In her late teens or early twenties, she shortened her loose-waisted skirts to mid-calf and then just above the knee, adding pants underneath so that her bare legs were not exposed. It seems quite modest by present-day standards, but it was considered scandalous at the time. Later in life, she cropped her hair short and wore even more conventionally masculine clothing—a long frock coat, tailored trousers, and on special occasions, a top hat and walking stick.