Sometime towards the end of the 1880s, Native America got its first medical doctor in Susan La Flesche Picotte who beyond just being a physician was also a campaigner for public health as well as a strong voice behind the allotment of land to members of her tribe, Omaha. Inasmuch as she did not live past middle age, LaFlesche still remains a big figure in public health reforms and her activities for her community.
Susan La Flesche Picotte Biography
On June 17, 1865, Chief Joseph La Flesche who was popular as Iron Eyes and his wife, Mary Gale gave birth to their fourth daughter, Susan La Flesche on the Omaha Indian Reservation, Nebraska. Joseph and Mary were both of mixed race, they did not only identify as part of the Omaha tribe but they were also involved in its treaty with the US to cede most of the Omaha territory.
It was on the reserve that she was born that Susan La Flesche Picotte was raised. She also got her education there when she attended the mission school that was run by the Presbyterians and later the Quakers. Susan later left to study in New Jersey at the Elizabeth Institute only to return after a couple of years to teach for some time. Next, she moved to Virginia and studied at the Hampton Institute.
The usual route that most women took after graduating from the Hampton Institute was either towards becoming teachers or wives and mothers. However, Susan La Flesche Picotte took the one never taken by any before her when she applied to the medical school in 1886, a time when there were not many medical schools that were open to women. She was accepted into the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) where she was able to graduate – thanks to the financial support from Alice Fletcher who was a family friend and an Ethnographer.
On March 14, 1889, she did not just graduate from medical school, she was also the valedictorian, graduating top of her class.
5 Facts You Need To Know About Susan La Flesche Picotte
1. Medical Practice
The story of Susan La Flesche Picotte as a medical doctor did not start when she became America’s first Indian medical doctor. It began many years ago when she was just a child of 8 who witnessed an old woman die while waiting for a white agency doctor. Four times, Susan witnessed a messenger sent for the doctor, and four times he sent back the same message that he would be coming until the woman died.
What she felt at that young age was that the doctor refused to come because the woman was only an Indian and that would set in something in her to go and become a doctor herself. When she finally became a doctor, she cared for both whites and Indians
2. Married Life and Children
Susan La Flesche got married to Henry Picotte in 1894. Henry caught the eye of Susan when he came to help with the farm of her sister’s husband who was ill at the time. In the spring of 1894, the two got engaged before finally tying the knot to the surprise of many because Henry was a divorcee.
Susan and her husband moved to Bancroft, Nebraska where instead of being a housewife as was expected, she continued practicing. The couple had two children before her Henry died in 1905. Before his death, he suffered from alcoholism and this made his wife work hard towards getting rid of alcoholism in the reservation.
3. Battle Over Her Husband’s Inheritance
After Henry Picotte died, Susan had to struggle hard to get his inheritance for their children. At first, she had to struggle to claim and then sell the 185 acres of land he left in South Dakota because a relative who was the children’s guardian was not ready to consent to the sale.
4. Community involvement
Apart from her personal struggles, Susan also took the various struggles of the communities including issues of land interest, helping people of Omaha to sell their lands and get their monies. She took to this after all that she had been through following the death of her husband.
5. Susan La Flesche Picotte Death
Although she spent her life helping people with health challenges, Picotte also had many health battles since she was young and this continued as she aged. She would much later in her life go deaf before later suffering and dying from bone cancer on September 18, 1915.