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Public and Private Worlds


Photographer Unknown
Dr. Mary Walker, c.1863
Gelatin silver print
Who we are and what we do in our private lives may sometimes be at odds with how we live in the world, and vice versa. Imagine Dr. Mary Walker, who, at her 1856 wedding to another surgeon, wore trousers and a man’s coat and kept her own name. After being appointed assistant surgeon during the American Civil War, Walker made herself a slightly modified officer’s uniform to wear, in response to the demands of traveling with the soldiers and working in field hospitals. In 1865 she was the only woman ever to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military award given by the United States. When Congress revised the standards in 1917, Walker refused to give back her Medal of Honor, wearing it every day until her death in 1919. Or consider the intimate relationship of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, a relationship that is increasingly celebrated as information about it becomes more public. There are a myriad of thought-provoking stories acknowledging the boundaries between private and public.