Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte
June 17, 1865 – September 18, 1916
Susan LaFlesche Picotte is credited with the honor of being the first Native American physician. Born on the Omaha reservation near the end of the American Civil War. One of eight children, Susan worked alongside her siblings, helping their father to farm their land. Her hard work ethic and drive fueled her to attain lifelong success.
As a young girl, she attended a boarding school before continuing her education at a time of life when most girls would have pursued a life of domesticity. Studying first at the Elizabeth School in New Jersey, then at the Hampton Institute in Virginia, she graduated at the top of both classes.
By 1886, Susan gained entrance to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. It was uncommon for women, at this time, to pursue a medical degree, and not many schools then would even accept applications from a female applicant. Again she soared to the top of her class. During the summers of her medical training, Susan went back to the Reservation, using her new skills to care for her people. Upon her graduation in 1889, she settled permanently back on her ancestral lands, accepting a position as a physician of the agency school, though was soon treating everyone on the Omaha reservation. Susan healed her people and taught lessons on preventative care, though also helped to advocate for the legal and lands rights of the Omaha people.
In 1894, she met and married Henry Picotte. Together, the couple had two sons. Susan and Henry’s time together, sadly, was short, for Henry died in 1905 of alcohol related issues. In the wake of his passing, Susan took up the cause of temperance as part of her advocacy. Longing to create a much-needed hospital on the reservation, Susan, in 1913, finally saw the realization of that dream, in the opening of a 17-bed facility that offered emergency and surgery services as well. After Dr. LaFlesche Picotte’s death in 1915, the hospital was named in her honor, serving until after WWII. Today, her hospital is a museum and center for the Omaha community.
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