Susan La Flesche Picotte, the first Native American woman to become a doctor in the United States, was born in 1865 and grew up on the Omaha Reservation. Susan La Flesche Picotte Net Worth 2021, Biography, Career, and Death. She campaigned for public health and for the formal, legal allotment of land to members of the Omaha tribe. Keep reading for details.
Susan La Flesche Picotte was a Native American doctor and reformer in the late 19th century. She is widely acknowledged as one of the first Native Americans to earn a medical degree.
She left in 1884 to attend the Hampton Institute in Virginia and later earned a medical degree at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.
Biography and Childhood
Born in a buckskin teepee on the Omaha Indian Reservation in northeast Nebraska on June 17, 1865, Susan was never given a traditional Omaha name by her mixed-race parents.
“As the chief guardian of welfare, he realized they would have to adapt to white ways or simply cease to survive,” says Joe Starita, author of “A Warrior of the People.
How Susan La Flesche Overcame Racial and Gender Inequality to Become America’s First Indian Doctor.” “He began an almost intense indoctrination of his four daughters. They would have to speak English and go to white schools.”
While Iron Eye insisted that Susan learn the tribe’s traditional songs, beliefs, customs, and language in order to retain her Omaha identity, he also sent her to a Presbyterian mission school on the reservation where she learned English and became a devout Christian.
At the age of 14, she was sent east to attend a girls’ school in Elizabeth, New Jersey, followed by time at Virginia’s Hampton Institute, where she took classes with the children of former slaves and other Native Americans.
While at the Hampton Institute, Susan La Flesche was encouraged by one of her mentors, Martha Waldron, to acquire a scholarship from the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs.
When that scholarship was granted, La Flesche became the first person to receive federal aid for professional education. In 1886 she began to attend the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, one of only a few medical schools at that time that accepted women.
While pursuing her education, La Flesche continued to experience life in both the white and Native American worlds. During her schooling in Philadelphia, she was in awe of the lavish dresses she saw in the department stores.
When she was fitted for a dress, she wrote to one of her sisters that it made her “become a lady of fashion.” In the same letter, she paradoxically told her sister that she yearned for a pair of moccasins.
She became the sole doctor for 1,244 patients spread over a massive territory of 1,350 square miles. House calls were arduous.
Long portions of her 20-hour workdays were spent wrapped in a buffalo robe driving her buggy through blankets of snow and biting subzero winds with her mares, Pat and Pudge, her only companions.
When she returned home, the woman is known as “Dr. Sue” often found a line of wheezing and coughing patients awaiting her. La Flesche’s office hours never ended. While she slept, the lantern-lit in her window remained a beacon for anyone in need of help.
La Flesche preached hygiene and prevention along with the healing power of fresh air and sunshine. She also spoke out against the white whiskey peddlers who preyed on the tribe members, continuing her father’s work as a passionate prohibition.
As difficult as it may have been to straddle two civilizations, La Flesche “managed to thread the delicate bicultural needle,” according to Starita. “Those with no trust of white doctors flocked to Susan,” he says. “The people trusted her because she spoke their language and knew their customs.”
In 1894, Susan La Flesche married Henry Picotte, a Sioux Indian from South Dakota. The couple moved to Bancroft, Nebraska, where she set up a private practice and they raised two children.
In a time of Victorian values, when women were generally expected to be full-time mothers and housekeepers after marriage, La Flesche Picotte worked full-time as a professional.
For most of his adult life, Henry Picotte suffered from alcoholism, and often La Flesche Picotte had to take care of him while simultaneously running her medical practice.
The experience would eventually lead her to the Temperance Movement, and when Henry died in 1905, La Flesche Picotte became determined to eliminate the scourge of alcohol on reservations. In 1906, she led a delegation to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the prohibition of alcohol on Indian lands.
Her opposition to alcohol on the reservations led her to fight for other causes and to attract some controversy. She supported a new Native American religious movement, the Peyote Religion, a pro-temperance Christian denomination that sought to introduce the hallucinogenic drug peyote into Native American spiritual traditions.
This put her in opposition with many of her white medical colleagues. She also became an activist for the tribal people’s legal status and citizenship and fought against land fraud perpetrated on the Omaha people.
Her activism hit home when she confronted the Bureau of Indian Affairs bureaucracy to prove she was more competent than a male relative to oversee her husband’s estate after his death.
Susan La Flesche Picotte also pushed for modern hygiene and disease prevention standards among the Omaha people. In 1913, she fulfilled a lifelong dream by opening a hospital on the Omaha reservation town of Walthill, Nebraska.
Despite these accomplishments, La Flesche Picotte suffered from chronic pain and respiratory problems, and as she grew older and her health declined, she became unable to carry on her many causes.
In March 1915, she became debilitated, and she died on September 18, 1915, of what was believed to be bone cancer.
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