Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil W

Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil W

Cheryl Harness
Illustrator:  Carlo Molinari 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 9
Albert Whitman & Company, 2013   ISBN: 978-0807549902

In the 1800s, tradition dictated that men wore pants and women wore long dresses with petticoats and tight corsets underneath. At that time men alone were allowed to vote and women were not allowed to participate in politics of any kind. They were also not allowed to become doctors or lawyers.

   Then Mary Edwards Walker came along and she refused to accept these rules and societal restrictions. “Her parents taught her to think for herself,” and this is what she did, even if it meant that people talked about her behind her back. She dared to become a doctor, one of the first women in America to do so, and she dared to wear pants because they were a lot more comfortable and sensible than those silly dresses.

   When the Civil War broke out, Mary went to Washington D.C to do all she could to help. Wounded men were pouring into the capital city and there were not enough doctors to tend to them all. Though she was a trained doctor, she was not allowed to be a surgeon in the army. Instead, for a while, she did what she could to make the soldiers more comfortable working as a nurse. This kind of nursing was something other determined women did, women like Clara Barton, and Louisa May Alcott. After a time Mary decided that her skills were being wasted and even though she was not allowed to serve as an army surgeon, she went to the field hospitals and offered her help. The medical staff at these facilities were stretched so thin that Mary’s help was accepted, by some. Eventually, in 1863, she was given the job of being an assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army. Thrilled to finally be allowed to work as a proper doctor, Mary set off for the front lines. She never imagined then that all kinds of adventures, some of which were dangerous, lay in her future.   

   In this wonderful picture book biography readers will meet a woman who believed that everyone had the right to wear what they wished, think what they wished, and say what they wished. She wore pants in public to make it understood to everyone that she would not be bound by accepted societal norms. Cheryl Harness tells Mary’s story with spirit and touches of humor, helping us to get to know a woman who was courageous and determined.