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Meet Cathay Williams: The Only Female Buffalo Soldier

Meet Cathay Williams: The Only Female Buffalo Soldier

February 3, 2021

Join Mid-Continent Public Library on Thursday, February 11, at 7:00 p.m. for a virtual presentation on the MCPL360 Facebook page about Cathay Williams, the only documented female Buffalo Soldier. Join Donna Madison of the local Alexander/Madison Chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers as she shares the story of Williams’ service in the 38th U.S. Infantry from 1866 to 1868. MCPL recently sat down with Madison, who shared her insights into Williams’ life.

MCPL: Who was Cathay Williams, and what did you learn about her?

Madison: I researched Cathay’s life and how she persevered for four years as a cook and laundress for commanding officers and staff of the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, she enlisted in the 38th Infantry as a man, and was able to hide her gender for 22 months. She was an illiterate but intelligent ex-female slave who desired to live free of charity from family and friends. For the most part, she succeeded, until she succumbed to failing health.

Cathay was probably not given a chance to be educated, but she used her intelligence to overcome her circumstances. Welfare and food stamps didn’t exist and would have been charity during that time. Today, education is free, and earning a living is much easier than it was when she lived.

MCPL: What is your favorite part of presenting programs like this one and sharing stories like Cathay’s?

Madison: My favorite part of storytelling is convincing my audience that she was a real person, and sharing silent history. History is not only our past, it’s also our future. Repeating it can be a disaster or our saving grace.

Learn more about Williams’ life and service during Madison’s program on February 11. Visit to find more Black History Month programs like this one.

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