Posted on 02/17/2008

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Native American
Omaha Reservation
Susan La Flesche
Dr. Susan Picotte Memorial Hospital

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First American Indian in the U.S. to receive a medical degree -- Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte

First American Indian in the U.S. to receive a medical degree -- Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte
[b. 1865 - d. 1915]

Susan LaFlesche overcame incredible odds to become the first Native American woman doctor in the United States.
Born to Iron Eye (American Indian and French), chief of the Omahas, and The One Woman in 1865, Susan LaFlesche began her life at a time when her people's culture was near its end.

As a child on the prairie she helped with all of the family chores. She followed her father often and learned from him many things - from herding to the wisdom he imparted to other tribesmen. But her father wanted her, and all the tribe's children, to be educated and to know her way around the white man's world which was quickly engulfing every native tribe in North America.

She had a good heart, a thirst for knowledge and liked to take charge of things from her early years. As a young woman she was always helping and sharing with others. She loved to ride her pony over the rolling hills and along the Missouri River.

She observed the white doctor on the reservation - sometimes he was slow, sometimes he seemed not to care. Realizing "...the difficulty of being in between worlds," she often wondered how to best help her people.

In 1879 Susan and her sister, Marguerite, went to the Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies in New Jersey, returning to the reservation in 1882. Back home, learning the new ways was discouraging for all. While tending to the needs of an ill Alice Fletcher, an anthropologist, Susan began to wonder if she could learn the skills necessary to help people medically. In 1884 she left to study at the Hampton Institute in Virginia. There she met the school doctor, Dr. Martha M. Waldron. With her aid she entered the Women's Medical College in Philadelphia in 1886.

She had a gentle nature which helped her get along with everyone, roommates, classmates and instructors. The next year she was gladdened when all Omahas became United States citizens. Susan had time for cultural pursuits in Philadelphia, attending social events, museums and concerts. She knew her half-brother was busy documenting the traditions of the Omaha and longed to help her people through this very trying time. In March of 1889 she completed her medical studies and returned home.

The Omaha Agency school in Macy was her home and office. From there she not only doctored - on horseback, later a buggy, through days that were often 15 hours long - but also helped her people through the cultural changes.

She resigned as the government doctor in 1893. In the summer of 1894 she was wed to Henry Picotte. They had two boys, Caryl and Pierre. In 1905 Henry died of alcoholism (a problem on the rise on most reservations). Susan and her sons moved from Bancroft back to Macy.

One of her dreams, that of a hospital on the reservation, finally came true in January of 1913 when the Dr. Susan Picotte Memorial Hospital was completed in Walthill, Nebraska (this was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989). She had an operation for ear and head pains from which she had suffered for years. A few months later, Susan LaFlesche Picotte died. The outpouring of kind words for her was extensive.

"Susan truly had faced obstacles above and beyond those faced by nineteenth century white women, yet she overcame every one and dedicated her life to her grateful people. Her story is a litany of frontier vignettes of which classic legends are made, and it needs no embellishment. Dr. Susan could very well emerge as one of the more notable heroines in American History."

Native American Doctor, the Story of Susan LaFlesche Picotte, by Jeri Ferris

Robert Warren
Robert Warren
A very nice series!
2 years ago.