Cathay Williams AKA William Cathay

Cathy Will-01.png
Cathy Will-01.png

Cathay Williams AKA William Cathay

from 300.00

Cathay Williams, AKA William Cathay, was the first known African American woman to enlist in the United States Army, and the only black woman documented to serve in the US army in the 19th century. 


Women were prohibited from serving in the military at that time, so Cathay disguised herself as a man and switched her first and last names, using the pseudonym William Cathay. Cathay was tall at 5’9” (175 cm) and had no problem enlisting since a medical exam wasn’t required. Cathay was declared fit for duty on November 15, 1866. She was assigned to Company A of the 38th Infantry, one of four all-black units newly formed that year. Only her cousin and her friend who were enlisted in the same regiment knew her secret. Cathay’s military career was short-lived. She contracted smallpox soon after enlisting, and was frequently hospitalized in the following years. 


During all these hospitalizations, her gender was never discovered. Finally, in October of 1868 — almost two years after she enlisted — the post surgeon discovered she was a woman and informed her commanding officer.


It’s unknown exactly when Cathay died. She’s not listed in the 1900 census for Trinidad, Colorado. Given her poor health and the fact that she was probably having a hard time financially since she applied for a pension, it’s probable that she died sometime between 1892 and 1900


Print Sizes

(S): 8.5x11 in
(M) 24x36 in
(L) 30x40 in
(XL) 60x40 in

Printed on High Quality Archival Metallic Paper

Hand signed and numbered.

Ships within 14 days of purchase 

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