Cathay Williams was breaking boundaries in the military back in the 1800s as the first Black woman to enlist in the United States Army before women were officially allowed.
Williams was born in Independence, Missouri on September 1844 to a free man and an enslaved woman. As a result, William's legal status was a slave.
The Missouri native worked as a house slave on the Johnson plantation until 1861, when Union forces occupied Jefferson City during the Civil War.
Captured slaves in Union-occupied territory were considered contraband and brought along with regiments. They often served in military support roles like cooks or nurses.
Williams traveled 8th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment for a few years through some states, witnessing battles and, eventually, uniformed Black male soldiers.
Her experiences sparked in interest in the military. Williams acted on those interests by enlisting in the 38th infantry in 1866. To get in, she posed as a man and went by William Cathay.
Williams contracted smallpox shortly after her enlistment and was hospitalized. Even though Williams was able to rejoin her unit in New Mexico, she would be inflicted with possible strain and be hospitalized more frequently.
A surgeon found out about Williams' secret and told the post commander. She was honorably discharged on October 14, 1868, which ended her chances of serving in the Army again.
But her hopes weren't dashed.
Williams signed up with an emerging all-black regiment, which would become part of the infamous Buffalo Soldiers. So far, she was the only known Black woman amongst the Buffalo Soldiers.
Experts don't know where Williams was buried nor when she passed away, but her pioneering legacy will persist and continue to inspire.
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