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Susan La Flesche Picotte - First Native American Woman Doctor
Susan La Flesche Picotte Memorial Hospital in Walthill, Nebraska ~
Susan La Flesche Picotte ~
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 ~
Susan La Flesche
Woman's Medical College, 1850 ~
Susette La Flesche Tibbles ~
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.
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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 ~
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Phyllis Doyle Burns - Lantern Carrier, Spiritual Mentor
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© 2013 Phyllis Doyle Burns