Susan La Flesche Picotte - First Native American Woman Doctor

Susan La Flesche Picotte Memorial Hospital in Walthill, Nebraska ~

Susan La Flesche Picotte Memorial Hospital, founded in 1912 by Picotte.
Susan La Flesche Picotte Memorial Hospital, founded in 1912 by Picotte. | Source

Susan La Flesche Picotte ~

Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte, 1865 - 1915
Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte, 1865 - 1915 | Source

Crossing the bridge ~.

Susan La Flesche Picotte was the first Native American woman doctor. She was born on June 17, 1865, on the Omaha Reservation in Walthill, Nebraska. With many obstacles in life ahead of her, she held on to her dream and career choice. She was a woman of substance and determination.

Joseph La Flesche, Susan's father, was the son of a French fur trader and a Ponca woman. Joseph was recognized as the last head chief of the Omaha tribe. Joseph married Mary Gale (The One Woman) whose father was Dr. John Gale, a surgeon. Mary's mother was Nicoma, an Ioway woman.

Joseph and Mary had seven children whom they encouraged to seek education in order to help their people. Joseph believed that a good future for his people meant a good education and crossing the bridge into the ways of the Europeans who were quickly engulfing the Native American tribes -- yet keep the old ways of the ancestors in their hearts. He inspired his children to work for their own people with their new knowledge.

Francis La Flesche, Susan's brother ~

Francis La Flesche, 1857 - 1932, first Native American ethnologist / anthropologist.
Francis La Flesche, 1857 - 1932, first Native American ethnologist / anthropologist. | Source

Woman's Medical College, 1850 ~

This was the first building of the Woman's Medical College in Pennsylvania.
This was the first building of the Woman's Medical College in Pennsylvania. | Source

Susette La Flesche Tibbles ~

Susette La Flesche Tibbles, 1854 - 1903
Susette La Flesche Tibbles, 1854 - 1903 | Source

Thirst for knowledge ~

Susan's sister, Susette La Flesche Tibbles (1854 - 1903) was a well-known Native American writer, lecturer, interpreter and artist of the Omaha tribe in Nebraska. Susette La Flesche was a progressive who was a spokesperson for Native American rights. In 1983 she was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame.

Another sister, Rosalie La Flesche Player, was also an activist for the rights of Native Americans. Their brother, Francis La Flesche, was a researcher and ethnologist for the Smithsonian Institute and an activist for Native American rights.

Learning much from her father, Susan became a woman of substance and determination to overcome incredible odds. She had a thirst for knowledge that led her to become a doctor, mentor and educator to her people.

Higher education and medical practice ~

After studying at Hampton Institute in Virginia Susan went on to the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1886. The college was founded in 1850 and was the first institution of its kind in the world to open its doors for women to study and earn their Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree.

Susan had stamina and strong dedication to her life goals. She took on a rigorous schedule with studies in anatomy, chemistry, histology, physiology, pharmaceutical science, obstetrics, as well as general medicine. She also worked at clinics at different facilities throughout Philadelphia. In March of 1889, Susan graduated at the top of her class.

After graduating, Susan was accepted as government physician at the Omaha Agency Indian School. She went on speaking tours for the Connecticut Indian Association and they helped Susan get started in her practice in Nebraska by providing medical instruments and books. She was appointed the position of missionary to the Omaha people.

In addition to her duties as physician at the reservation boarding school, Susan took on the health care for people of the community who preferred not to travel the distance to the reservation agency. She made house calls for those too ill to visit her office. The community trusted and respected Susan.

It was very important to Susan to educate her own people and those in the broader community on hygiene, preventative medicine and public health issues. She tackled the serious problem of alcoholism on the reservation and campaigned against alcohol and the use of itl to bribe reservation members into selling their land. This was a serious problem and Susan gave lectures on the issue along with the dangers of alcoholism.

Susan's hospital ~

On horseback Susan visited and doctored her people. She was able to eventually get a buggy, but her days were long with hard traveling and work. Besides medical help, she helped her people through many cultural changes.

Susan married Henry Picotte in 1894. They moved to Bancroft, Nebraska where Susan set up a private practice. Susan's patients were Native Americans as well as white people. Along with her busy practice, Susan raised her two sons and took care of Henry, who had a terminal illness. Henry died at the age of 50.

In 1913 Susan raised private funds and founded the first hospital on an American Indian reservation not funded by the government. The hospital was built in Walthill, Nebraska, and today is a haven for troubled youth to receive support. The hospital was named Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte Memorial Hospital in her honor. It contains a museum on Susan's work and history of the Omaha and Winnebago tribes. In 1993, the hospital property was declared a National Historic Landmark.

Susan suffered for about twenty years from a very painful and degenerative bone disease in her ear. Even through her personal sufferings, she kept a light in her window to let patients know they were welcome throughout the night. Susan was also a church and community leader, public health advocate, and Indian rights activist. She devoted her life to healing, community, and fostering respect between races. Her dedication never failed.

Susan died just two years after obtaining her lifelong goal of building a hospital on the reservation. When she died, very high tributes were paid to this remarkable woman and her achievements.

~ ~ ~ ~

Susan La Flesche Picotte obituary ~

"Friends Gather in the Home for Services in Reverence of One Whose Life Was of Constant Sacrifice and Useful Devotion to Her People. Record of Her Achievements in the Face of Great Obstacles a Story of True Heroism."

Drums of Change ~

Note from author ~

Thank you for reading my article. Your opinions are important to me and let me know your interests. This helps me to offer more of your favorite subjects to read about. Your time and interest are very much appreciated. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.

I write on several different subjects, all evergreen articles. You can read more about me and see more articles I wrote by clicking on my name by the small picture of me at the top right of this page.

Blessings and may you always walk in peace and harmony, softly upon Mother Earth.

Phyllis Doyle Burns - Lantern Carrier, Spiritual Mentor
~ ~ ~ ~

© 2013 Phyllis Doyle Burns

More by this Author


Comments 22 comments

mactavers profile image

mactavers 3 years ago

Interesting Hub. I enjoy hubs on historical subjects, and it seems that while they do not draw a large amount of traffic, they bring a small steady amount of traffic.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Thank you, mactavers, for the visit and comment. I love to research and write about women in history.


Marie Flint profile image

Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, FL

Phyllis, it sounds like you did a lot of research on this one. This is the first cultural hub of yours that I have read. I'm wondering whether you drew all your information from the two featured books.

Susan Picotte was undoubtedly an enlightened lady. After reading her story, I wondered whether I was doing enough with my life.

Also, I wonder what our country would be like today if white settlers had adopted some of the Native American Indian wisdom concerning herbal medicines and taking only what one truly needed to survive comfortably. Had we integrated more with the Indian culture, I think our country would probably be very different today with a deeper respect for Mother Earth.

Other than a little repetition, I enjoyed this hub very much.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Thanks, for your return visit, Marie. I so agree with you that if the white settlers had incorporated more of the native wisdom of Mother Earth and all creation, plus learned the ways of medicinal herbs and healing, that this would be a very different country. I feel it would be a more peaceful place than what we have today. There were many settlers who learned from the native, however. The 'Granny Women' of the Appalachian regions learned much of their craft and healing ways from local tribes, like the Cherokee. Sadly, people like the Granny Women and fading into history.

I have not read the two books I featured. They do look interesting and I am sure tell a lot more about Susan La Flesche. My research is usually all done in libraries and online, plus, with Native American historical persons, I have man Native American friends I turn to. I have a strong affinity with Native Americans, especially the Lakhota, Hopi, and Northwest tribes.


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 3 years ago from San Francisco

As much as I like this, there is one Hubber who this will thrill more. I will send her your way.


whonunuwho profile image

whonunuwho 3 years ago from United States

Such courageous people and well deserving of highest honors. They are the essences of the true human spirit in action. Thank you for sharing this remarkable story. whonu


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

whonu, thank you so much for the visit and comment. I agree with you, Susan and others like her were courageous and deserving of highest honors and demonstrated true human spirit in action. Susan was a remarkable woman.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

mhatter, I am very glad you like this hub. Thank you for the visit and your comment. Yes, please, send her this way and I hope she enjoys reading. Thank you so much.


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 3 years ago

Today more and more stories are coming out about Native American heroes. Our Native American ancestors, especially the women, have been put on the back burner far too long. I was not familiar with Susan La Flesche, but I am glad to make her acquaintance through your very informative hub. I have two pet interests, women’s rights and Native American rights and you have covered them both here. Thank you for making my day.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

MizBejabbers, thank you very much for reading my hub and for you interesting commentary. There are so many, many Native Americans who are heroes to their people and also to others. They have greatly contributed to the history of America. I have a strong affinity with NA tribes and love to research, read and write about them. Thanks again, for the visit and comment. May you walk in peace and harmony.


Marie Flint profile image

Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, FL

My former housemate's boyfriend was Cherokee. I also enjoyed reading (quite some time ago) the autobiography of Wilma Mankiller, Chief of the Cherokee nation, a matriarchy. She wrote grants to the federal government to get electricity for her people and improve living conditions on reservations. She went through many health challenges and nearly died. It's a very interesting read. ***


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Wilma Mankiller did so much for her people. Cherokee citizenship increased by over 100,000 people under her chiefdom. She was a fascinating woman, very dedicated.


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 3 years ago

Love Marie's comment. I'll have to seek out Wilma Mankiller's autobiography. Unfortunately many of us of Cherokee descent like my husband (3/4) and me (about 1/3) have ancestors who "passed" and stayed off the Dawes or Miller Guion rolls and can't get back into the tribe.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Wilma Mankiller was a very interesting woman. I am glad Marie brought her name up. It is sad, but true, that those of NA descent cannot get back into the tribe due to the rolls not being complete. Is it possible to contact the tribal committee and find out how to be adopted? I know that some tribes will adopt someone of lineal descent.


angryelf profile image

angryelf 3 years ago from Tennessee

What an accomplishment for such a bright woman to hold! Great hub, voted up :)


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Thank you, angryelf, for your visit and comment. It is much appreciated, as are your votes.


phoenix2327 profile image

phoenix2327 3 years ago from United Kingdom

A wonderful history lesson. I've never heard of Susan La Fleshce Picotte and enjoyed reading about her accomplishments.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Greetings, phoenix. Thank you very much for reading my hub. I am glad you enjoyed it. I love writing about women in history.


Tamara14 profile image

Tamara14 2 years ago from Zagreb, Croatia, Europe

You are an excellent writer Phyllis. The amount of information and the way of presenting them to your audience is great and averwhelming. A bit too late in the evening here though so I'm going to have to visit again and read it one more time for complete enjoiment :)


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 15 months ago from Essex, UK

It is usually the case with all cultures different from our own, that a few cliched stereotypes dominate the public perception. In the case of the American Indian, it is of course the legendary war braves and chiefs fighting against the encroachment of the white man on their land. Perhaps a courageous proud image, but also a hostile image.

It is therefore always helpful to see the other side - compassion, tolerance, gentleness and other humane virtues, as exemplified here. Virtues which all cultures have, but which are not always brought to the public attention. Information about role models of this kind must therefore enhance the perception of the native American culture.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 15 months ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Greensleeves and thank you very much for your most important message and contribution to this hub. I greatly appreciate your visit and comment.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 13 months ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Thank you, Tamara414. sorry I missed your comment when you posted it.

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