Cathay Williams 1844 - 1892
Celebrating military veterans is an American pastime, thus, it’s past time for Cathay Williams to receive recognition for her service. Williams is the first black woman to serve in the U.S. Army. Since it was illegal for women to serve in the military at the time, Williams used the name "William Cathay," posed as a man, and passed a physical exam.
Unaware of the deception, Williams was accepted as another male soldier very quickly. She “was assigned to Company A of the 38th U.S. Infantry, one of six infantry regiments and two cavalry regiments of black soldiers deployed in the post-Civil War Indian campaigns in the West.” Williams’s regiment marched over 500 miles west from Kansas to New Mexico. The four-month march took a severe medical toll on Williams, causing her to be hospitalized on three separate occasions in 1868.
Throughout her service, Williams visited several doctors and medical professionals. Yet, thanks in part to her being one of the tallest in her regiment, Williams managed to blend in and be perceived as a man. Due to declining health from the long march, Williams received a medical discharge from the U.S. Army. However, when she applied for an invalid pension (using her given name/gender), she was denied by the U.S. Army.
Williams should be celebrated, not only for her courage to enlist during a war, but for intentionally misidentifying gender in order to remain a soldier in the U.S. military.