Imagine, if you will, that you are living in Missouri at the end of the Civil War (1864 or thereabouts). Imagine also that you are a woman without a ton of moneymaking options who is in need of a job ASAP. Oh, and you are also a recently freed slave living in a place and time where people are still getting used to the idea that you aren't a piece of property. (And we thought it was tough to find a job in this economy.) What on earth will you do to support yourself?
Well, if you are a feisty entrepeneuse with a working knowledge of military life like Ms. Cathay Williams, what you will do is dress in drag and join the U.S. Army.