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Susan LaFlesche Picotte (Omaha Tribe)

Susan LaFlesche Picotte, Physician, Omaha Tribe (1865-1915)

Growing up on Nebraska’s Omaha reservation, Susan LaFlesche witnessed an incident that influenced her destiny: a white medical doctor refused to treat an ill Native American woman who then died of her illness. Because of this, she decided to become a medical doctor to help her people. In 1889, she became the first female Native American to earn a medical degree in the United States. Her father Chief Joseph LaFlesche (Iron Eyes) had always encouraged his children to educate themselves. While working at a Quaker School, Susan took care of ethnologist Alice Fletcher who worked there and who encouraged her to go on to higher education. Susan enrolled in the prestigious Hampton Institute and then went on to complete her M.D. at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania where she completed a three year program in two years, finishing as valedictorian of her graduating class.  After completing her 1 year intern position in Philadelphia, she returned to the vast Omaha reservation, which was over 450 square miles,  and served about 1,300 patients. On call night and day, she became the sole physician when another physician left and was not replaced. In 1894 she married Henry Picotte and left her position on the reservation when she and her husband moved to Bancroft, Nebraska. There they raised two sons and she continued to practice medicine in a private practice serving both native and non-native patients.  She helped raise money to build a hospital and in 1913, she opened Walthill Hospital, the first private hospital on a Native American reservation, in Walthill, Nebraska, a town within the reservation. After her death in 1915, the hospital was renamed the Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte Memorial Hospital. A museum was established within the hospital dedicated to Dr. Laflesche’s work and includes a history of the Omaha and Winnebago tribes.

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