Why we have Women's History Month
By Master Sgt. Robert Palos, 354th Fighter Wing Military Equal Opportunity Office
/ Published March 04, 2008
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- March is Women's History Month, a time to highlight and celebrate the accomplishments and achievements made by women.
Yet every year I hear one question that always seems to linger on people's minds: Why do we celebrate women's history; don't men and women share the same history?
To answer, we must examine three important factors that must be acknowledged; first, women do not always have an equal place at the table, their accomplishments are often marginalized, and even though in many cases they have to work twice as hard just to be accepted as an equal, many achievements are never included or washed out in the annuls of history.
Such was the case of Cathy Williams: the only female Buffalo Soldier.
Cathy Williams was not born to a place at the table; her mother was a slave, and while her father was a free person of color, she worked as a house slave on the Johnson Plantation in Jefferson City, Mo.
At age seventeen, Cathy Williams joined the 8th Indiana volunteer infantry in military support roles (such as cooks, laundresses or nurses.). Cathy Williams would make a decision that would change her life, she decided to enlist as a man, and joined up with the United States Regular Army.
Being relatively tall at 5 feet 9 inches and physically tough after many years of forced marches and hard physical labor, Williams apparently had no problem passing a cursory physical exam. She initially signed on for a three-year tour of duty under the name "William Cathay" and for the next several years, she traveled alongside the infantry, accompanying the soldiers on their marches throughout Arkansas, Louisiana and Georgia.
Cathy Williams's military service has often been marginalized by historians even though she worked twice as hard having to disguise herself as a man.
The fortitude it took to march alongside soldiers in a time of war or the patriotism it took to serve a country that believes you a second-class citizen because of your race and gender was undeniable.
She has a list of accomplishments that would be impressive to any military record; she was present at the Battle of Pea Ridge and the Red River Campaign, and most notably served for about two years as a Buffalo Soldier in New Mexico.
When her gender was discovered after her body became ravaged by illness, forced marches and brutal work, she was discharged because of her gender.
The story of Cathy Williams has never been completely told and her name has in some ways been washed out in the annuls of history.
Even more tragic, her accomplishments were denied as she lay broken on her deathbed, all because she was a woman.
Examples such as this are why Women's History Month is so important: because it should foster a sense of unity amongst all members, to develop an awareness of the challenges gender can present for everyone and bring attention to the achievements, of women such as Cathy Williams, whose independent spirit thrived in a time when women seemed powerless.