Cover Image: I Could Not Do Otherwise

I Could Not Do Otherwise

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Member Reviews

Good gracious, this woman makes Jo March look like a rank amateur! Except she was REAL. Her open defiance of any and every convention that stood in the way of women’s rights and progress is mind-boggling. This is the sort of focus and determination you generally only see in fictional characters (hence the Jo March remark). In particular, the business of Dr. Walker being a thorn in the side of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Carrie Chapman Catt because of her refusal to prioritize white ladies’ suffrage over that of Black citizens pleased me to no end. 

The writing is extremely accessible, sometimes bordering on simplistic. There were times when I wished for a bit more punch from the narration, but overall Dr. Walker’s own exploits provided the liveliness that the text itself sometimes lacked. Although some of the pauses to explain terminology or historical context were jarring to me as an adult, *I’m not the intended audience.* Nobody over the age of 10 or 12 should have any trouble understanding this book.

Lastly, I appreciated how the author drew parallels between the legislation that affected Dr. Walker’s life, and how that kind of thinking still impacts the lives of gender nonconforming folks today. For instance, enacting laws to decide which genders are permitted to wear which garments.
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This biography of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker is an informative introduction to the life and work of this little-known Medal of Honor recipient and women's rights advocate. My main criticism is the book's loose structure and rambling style.  A more topical organization may've sharpened its focus and made for a more absorbing reading experience.
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Dr. Mary Walker was a force to be reckoned with. A Civil War surgeon, dress reformer, suffragist, and overall trailblazer. Her story is one that should be more widely told, and “I Could Not Do Otherwise” very thoroughly covers her many adventures, setbacks, and accomplishments.

What I loved:
I loved the may anecdotes that illustrated just how uniquely Mary lived, from attending medical school to wearing pants under shortened dresses and eventually men’s suits. And I was so impressed by her many efforts to forward feminist causes. And lastly, I was shocked to learn that she was one of the most famous people in the United States at one point and wielded a lot of influence, yet she was essentially erased from the history of feminism.

What I didn’t love:
The book can feel like a history textbook at times.

But overall, I’m happy to have learned about Dr. Mary Walker’s life and significant contributions to American history.

Thank you NetGalley and Zest Books for the eARC! All opinions are my own.
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Thank you, NetGalley and Lerner Publishing Group, for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

4-4.5 stars.

I was drawn to I Could Not Do Otherwise because I work for an organization that incorporates the stories of Medal of Honor Recipients into its programming and am always eager to read books featuring Medal of Honor Recipients. Mary Walker, being the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor, is certainly one of my favorite Medal of Honor Recipients and so that made me even more excited to read this book.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading I Could Not Do Otherwise and most definitely learned a lot about Dr. Walker. The book covers her entire life in detail and does it in an extremely engaging way.

My only issues with the book were: 
- While relatively minor, it is difficult to understand who exactly this book is geared towards. I felt like the book covered a lot of higher level (in some cases, adult) topics (mentions of erotic poetry, very briefly, and Dr. Walker's book discussing topics like masturbation, intersex individuals) and yet many words that high schoolers/adults would know were defined in parentheses (like 'secede', 'lynched' and 'vaccinations'). I personally do not have any problem with teenagers reading books that discuss sex or even erotic poetry but it felt odd that those topics were covered while at the same time the book was defining terms like 'vaccinations'. 
- In the first half of the book, there are lots of sections where what Mary Walker said is described as "Mary Walker told a journalist" without listing the journalist's name or the paper that they wrote for. I found that odd, especially since in later chapters more information is provided when quoting news articles.
- Lastly, there are sections that aren't necessarily related to Mary Walker but that provide historical context. In some cases, I found some of them not necessary to the story.

Despite these relatively minor issues, I would definitely recommend this book. Dr. Mary Walker's story is an important part of our history! She lived a truly awesome life and it is important that the public know more about her. I think I Could Not Do Otherwise truly captures the essential parts of her story and would highly recommend this book to both high school age and adult readers!
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I've never heard of this woman before (which is sad but unsurprising, considering history and the very contents inside this book), but she is probably singlehandedly the reason I am allowed to wear pants today. Dr. Mary was one of the first licensed female doctors who graduated from a university in the United States in the 1800s. And despite having a degree, recommendations from men, and the country being in the middle of one of the deadliest wars it's ever known and desperately in need of doctors, she still had to fight her way into hospitals. Her upbringing was interesting with liberal parents who supported almost everything she did (except for wearing pants weirdly enough). She was a huge advocate for abolition. She personally knew Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas, was a suffragist and women's rights activist, was a doctor for the North and extremely patriotic, and was even sent into the confederacy as a spy. 

Her life was incredibly interesting and this book is not only a frustrating look at how women and bipoc have often been erased by history, but also sheds some light onto parts of the Civil War that you rarely hear about (for example, you always hear that amputation was a huge part of treatment during the civil war, but Mary wrote how she thought doctors used wounded soldiers as experiments and would suggest amputation for even the most minor of cuts just to have something to practice on).

Overall, an interesting book about a fascinating person almost lost to history and offers a unique look at Civil War. Thanks to netgalley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
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I have never heard of this woman before but I am so happy I read this book. It’s eye opening and a definite must read if you want to read about a strong woman who didn’t let anyone or anything stand in her way. I enjoyed learning about her and would encourage others to read her story. 


Thanks to NetGalley and the Publisher for the ARC.
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I'm not usually a fan of nonfiction or biographies but this was an exception. Very well written and could tell it was clearly well researched.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own
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This does what I was hoping for in a biography about Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, I never really heard of this fascinating woman before but I'm glad I was able to learn about her through this book. It was written really well and I was never bored during my read through this. Sara Latta has a great writing style and I could tell she did the research to create this book. I hope Ms. Latta does more biographies as this was wonderfully done.

"Mary’s patients were grateful for her services, but her style of dress baffled them. How could a woman possibly dress like a man? It just wasn’t done! The mother of the child with tetanus called her “Sir.” In another case, Mary treated a sick old woman who lived with her daughter. The woman asked Mary to spend the night but said she would have to share a bed with her daughter."
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