8 Facts About Cathay Williams, First And Only Female Buffalo Soldier


“The first African American female to enlist in the United States Army”

1. On November 15, 1866, Cathay Williams became the first African American female to enlist and serve in the United States Army.

2. Cathay Williams had to pretend to be a man to enlist into the United States Army. She went by the name of William Cathay while enlisted.

3. Due to her being frequently hospitalized due to strain and smallpox, the post surgeon discovered that Cathay Williams was a woman. He reported this information to the post commander and on October 14, 1868 Captain Charles Clarke discharged her honorably from the military.

Cathay Williams, Female Buffalo Soldier

4. Though other women who disguised themselves as men were previous granted military pensions (Molly Pitcher and Deborah Sampson), Cathay Williams was never approved to receive a pension or disability even though she suffered from diabetes, had all her toes amputated and could only walk with a crutch.

5. Over 400 women posed as male soldiers during the Civil War, most enlisted with their husbands, brothers or other family members, however, it is unknown if any other women served in the military during the Indian Wars like Cathay Williams.

6. Cathay Williams was born in Independence, Missouri in September of 1842. Her mother was a “slave” and her father was a “free man of color”.

7. During her two year stint in the military, Cathay Williams primarily did regular garrison duties and there are no documented records that can verify that she saw actual combat.

8. Cathay Williams’ life after the military and after she was denied a pension is primarily unknown and most scholars think she died sometime between 1892 and 1900.


  • Brenda J Simms October 10, 2016 - 9:06 pm

    Learning about our history is wonderful. We have made contribution just the same as men. Thank you

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