Little-Known Facts About Black History, Culture, Inventions, and More!

Home News/ Blog Museums Organizations About Us Contact Us

Cathay Williams, the First Black Female in the U.S. Military, Pretended to Be a Man

Cathay Williams

In 1866, the U.S. military unknowingly enlisted their first Black female soldier during the Civil War. Her name was Cathay Williams, but she enlisted herself as a man using the name William Cathay. According to America's Female Buffalo Soldier, "there were only two people that knew her true identity – a cousin and a friend, who faithfully kept her secret."

During her time in the service for the 38th U.S. infantry, Williams had been sent with her troops all over Kansas, until they were ordered to march all the way down to New Mexico. The previous article states: "They were stationed there for eight months, protecting miners and traveling immigrants from Apache attack."

After some time, Williams became ill and was found to be a woman while she was hospitalized. Because of this revelation, her captain went as far as saying she was "feeble both physically and mentally, and much of the time quite unfit for duty."

However, although Williams was not credited as the pioneer of Black American female soldiers, there has since been a rise of Black male and female soldiers in the U.S. military.