Thursday, February 5, 2015

Famous Black Firsts: First Black Female To Enlist Cathay Williams

Born in 1844 Cathay Williams was the daughter of a free man from Missouri and a slave which meant for all intents and purposes, legally she was a slave. Yeah. I know. During the American Civil War captured slaves were considered contraband so they were forced to serve in the military as cooks and nurses. 

Cathay joined the Union army at the age of 17 by pretending to be a man named William Cathay. This means that Cathay was not only the first Black female to enlist as an American Soldier, but that she is the only one documented to have posed as a man and get in. She served in the 8th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Too many words.

After being present in multiple battles when the war ended she still wanted to continue. She joined the Regular Army and passed herself off as a man for three more years. It is said that only two other people knew her secret: a cousin and a friend who were also soldiers alongside her. After getting smallpox, I say it as if its a present, she was finally discovered by a doctor who snitched. She was discharged in 1868. Afterward she worked as a cook in New Mexico and then while living in Pueblo, Colorado her husband stole all her money and horses. She had his ass arrested and moved again working as a seamstress. By 1876 the story of her service got around but did her little to no good as by 1890 she got sick and could not get any disability help. A couple of other women had done what she did but they were White and got help from famous friends. No one is sure exactly when she died but they guesstimate around 1892 and no one knows where she is buried because Black. This woman was a champion of champions and schools should be ashamed that she was never talked about.

Click here for previous Famous Black Firsts.  


Hazel said...

Thanks for posting this. All your posts on Black history are interesting and great reading, but this one especially.

Dante said...

Thank you for checking these out. Each one I do and read about makes me shocked that I didn't learn about these people an what they did during Black History Month.

Hazel said...

I've been wondering why these people aren't featured in school curricula.
Maybe, apart from plain old racism, part of it is that there's a discomfort about people who don't stay in their box. Black people should black, women should woman. Not, you know, be who they actually are whether that be a judge or a soldier or an athlete because that upsets the applecart. Let's not mention this to the kids, it might confuse them.

Dante said...

If it were discomfort then I would suggest not even bringing up Black History Month in schools. I would rather it not be talked about then half-assed the way I was taught. Every year it was about peanut butter being created and the cotton gin and then March came and that was that. Sure it didn't help that White teachers had to tell this to a room full of Black kids. "Years ago people that looked like me whipped and sold your families..."