Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)
 

Emily Hammond Wilson Walker M. D. (1904-2007)
MSA SC 3520-14731

Biography:

Emily Hammond Wilson was born on July 8, 1904 on Redcliffe Plantation, in Beech Island South Carolina to Mary Gwyn Hammond and Christopher Cashiel Fitzsimmons Hammond.1 She was the oldest of 8 children born to an impoverished aristocratic family. A tomboyish girl, she roamed Kathwood, her family’s estate caring for ailing farm animals and accompanying her mother on sick visits to the black families.2 Born into a large household, Dr. Walker first gained experience with medical care through watching her mother. She recalled, “There were some twenty black families on the farm…when the babies were sick, the parents brought them up to the house for Mother…Mother saved many of the babies on the place.”3   She was inspired by her mother’s charity for the poor families who, under the laws of Jim Crowe South, could not get treatment at most facilities. So at the age of 13, when nearly everyone on the farm began calling her “Doc”, young Emily Wilson realized that she could become a doctor and pursued her dream relentlessly.4

Dr. Walker graduated from St. Genevieve’s in Ashville, North Carolina and went on to study pre-med first at Goucher College and, not liking the city of Baltimore, transferred to the University of Georgia in Athens.5 There, she helped to found the Alpha Alpha Chapter of Phi Mu Sorority.6  After completing her undergraduate studies, Dr. Walker wanted to attend the Medical College of Georgia. In the mid 1920s it was unheard of for a woman to even go as far in her education as Walker did but, focused on her goal, she gained admission.7 Despite the dean accusing her of applying just to flirt with the boys, she gained admission  and received her medical degree in 1927.8  Immediately following medical school, Dr. Walker went on to an internship at the Central Georgia Railroad Hospital, which entailed taking medical histories and performing physical examinations on all of the patients that were admitted. In July 1928, she refused remaining without a pay raise and left the job declaring, “If you don’t think I’m worth more now than when I came here, I can’t stay.”9  Emily went home after that and promptly found another position at The Johns Hopkins Hospital researching constitutional disease and working in its medical clinic.10  However, Dr. Walker was a never quite comfortable in the city, so when she found out about a position as county doctor in Anne Arundel County she applied to Dr. Arthur Shipley, Chief Surgeon at the University Hospital in Baltimore, who was charged with the task of finding a county doctor. Initially, he did not want to give her the job citing three reasons, “‘First, you’re little and skinny; second, you’re a woman, and nobody down there has ever seen a woman doctor; and third, you are a Catholic, which is anathema in that part of the world…they are either Methodists or good Episcopalians’”.11

These words did not deter her from taking the position, and Dr. Shipley, grudgingly, gave her the position as county doctor of Lothian in Anne Arundel County. When she arrived at the bus station and realized that no one expected her to be a woman, it only made her more determined to be the best she could be. In fact, Wilson became a doctor, “partly because nobody wanted me to. They wanted me to be a lady”.12   Her first patient was a dog, injured by a car, which she successfully stitched him up. After curing the dog, she gained the tentative trust of residents. In fact, the patients eventually started trickling in after word got out that the young, female doctor could help them. She began making new friends and one of them was her future husband, John Wilson, whom she met at a church social. He was the most eligible bachelor in town and many years her senior but these did not deter the bold young woman.13  She went after him and after courting for some time, they wed in 1932.14

Dr. Walker recalled that even at the height of the Depression, she continued to charge the same fair prices to her patients of $1 for an office visit and $15 for delivering babies at home.15  She would provide medical services to the patients of the county regardless of income and battled the country roads and fields to make appointments, sometimes accepting oysters, poultry, or whiskey as payment when money was scarce.16  In addition to being fair to her patients’ financial situations, she was fair when it came to skin color. When it came to providing medical services, Dr. Walker was indiscriminate of race and ignored the unfair Jim Crowe laws of the south at the time. She welcomed black patients to her integrated waiting room, cared for and delivered black babies who were not accepted at the county hospitals, and treated their illnesses just as she did to everyone.17

The newlywed Dr. Walker soon became pregnant, and at 28 she gave birth to the couple’s first child, John Fletcher Wilson, Jr., in 1934 after a very rough pregnancy.18 Soon after, she gave birth to a second child, another boy, Christopher Hammond Wilson in 1936.19 As Dr. Walker entered the 1940s, life began getting much more difficult with the United States’ entrance into World War II. Nearly all of the county doctors were called to serve, leaving her alone as one of the only doctors left in Anne Arundel County, even greater than before was the county’s need for her. Dr. Walker was the first to have ever diagnosed tick fever or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Maryland in the 1940s just after the war.20 This heightened need, along with gas rationing, put her at a disadvantage, but the spunky Doctor made it work for her by reminding people just how important her role was,

The chief of the gasoline section of the Rationing Board was my patient, so I went to the Ration Board to ask for more coupons. The man said ‘Oh, you’re simply using too much gas, Doctor, and we can’t give you any more until the first of the month’ ‘All right,’ I said. ‘but I hope you are the one who wakes up in the middle of the night with a bad pain.’ ‘Oh, hell, Emily,’ he said. ‘How much do you want?’21

After the war, Dr. Walker and John Wilson bought the 200-acre Obligation Farm estate, a historic property in Harwood which is still owned by the Wilson family.22  She bought it in 1947 for the price of only $12,000.23  Moving into Obligation was a grand procession in which they loaded “every wagon, every horse, tractor loaded to the gills”.24  In addition to this, another big postwar change in Dr. Walker’s life was that in 1951 she was offered the position of president of the society and chief of staff at the former Anne Arundel General Hospital now Anne Arundel General Hospital.25  This was a place where she was initially denied a position, however, her reputation preceded her and the hospital could not deny skill. As chief of staff she proceeded to establish clinics to treat syphilis, and pre-natal care, which was always a necessity.26   At the time sexual health and pregnancy were two of the most neglected fields in medicine. One unhappy change after the success of the clinics was the untimely death of her husband, John, in January 1952.27  Dr. Walker was left widowed at 48 with two young sons still in school. Not allowing this to slow her down, she persisted in working hard and maintained a close knit family and successful career, despite her own personal heartbreak. Dr. Walker went on to remarry in 1974, this time to her childhood sweetheart, A.T. Walker, or “Tup” as she affectionately called him.  With him, she spent many years traveling around the world and experiencing new things together, especially after her retirement from her practice in 1982.28  After Tup’s death in 1988 she settled at Obligation for the remainder of her life.29

Dr. Emily Wilson Walker remained an inspirational and spirited figure in Maryland medicine. Because of her breakthrough and demand for respect many young Maryland women were able to follow in her footsteps and go on to success in medicine. Dr. Walker continued to keep her spunk and humor until her death on July 10, 2007, at the ripe age of 103.30  She said, “ I’m going to keep going until I get old,”31but her legacy lives on and will never grow old for those who need inspiration to cast aside the doubts of others and pursue their dreams.

Footnotes

1. Therese Magnotti, Doc: The Life of Emily Hammond Wilson (Shady Side, MD: Shady Side Rural Heritage Society, Inc, 1995), 3. Return to text
2. Frederick N. Rasmussen, "A country doctor, she practiced for more than 50 years in southern Anne Arundel County," The Baltimore Sun, 14 July 2007. Return to text
3. Magnotti, 9. Return to text
4. Ibid., 10. Return to text
5. Ibid., 29. Return to text
6. Ibid. Return to text
7. Elise Armacost, "Female Doctor Broke S. County fevers, Barriers," The Baltimore Sun, 5 April 1991. Return to text
8. Margi Sigler, "Medical Trailblazer: County's first female doctor turns 100," The Capital, 7 July 2004. Return to text
9. Magnotti, 10. Return to text
10. Ibid., 41. Return to text
11. Ibid., 42. Return to text
12. Armacost. Return to text
13. Magnotti, 55 . Return to text
14. "Emily Wilson Walker, M.D. "Maryland Commission for Women. Maryland Women's Hall of Fame. 8 July 2008.
      <http://www.msa.md.gov/msa/educ/exhibits/womenshall/html/walker.html> Return to text
15. Obituaries. "Emily Walker," The Capital, 11 July 2007. Return to text
16. Leopold, John R. "2008 Maryland Women's Hall of Fame Nomination Form". Maryland Commission for Women, 2007. Return to text
17. Ibid. Return to text
18. Magnotti, 72. Return to text
19. Ibid., 79. Return to text
20. Ibid., 93. Return to text
21. Ibid, 81-2. Return to text
22. Mary Allen, "Medicine Woman: Dr. Emily Wilson, south county's 1st female doctor is subject of biography," The Capital,19 July 1996. Return to text
23. Obituaries.Return to text
24. Patricia Sullivan, "Emily Wilson Walker, 103; Doctor, Pioneer Served Rural Anne Arundel," The Washington Post, 12 July 2007. Return to text
25. Sigler. Return to text
26. Ibid. Return to text
27. Magnotti, 107. Return to text
28. Rasmussen. Return to text
29. Ibid. Return to text
30. Obituaries. Return to text
31. Sullivan. Return to text

Biography written by 2008 summer intern Shannon Shird.

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