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Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865-1915)

First Native American Woman M.D.

La Flesche received her medical degree from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1889, graduating at the top of her class. She spent her internship at the Woman's Hospital in Philadelphia. From August of 1889 to October of 1893, she served on the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska as physician to her tribe, finally resigning for health reasons.

During this time, she worked for the government's Office of Indian Affairs. From 1891 to 1893 she also served as "medical missionary" for her tribe, so designated by the Women's National Indian Association. This dual workload included travel across the length and breadth of the Omaha Reservation, making house calls in addition to receiving patients in her office. La Flesche married in the summer of 1894 and added her husband's last name, Picotte, to her own.

Throughout the remainder of her life, Picotte worked for improved health conditions of the Omaha tribe. This is born out by her extensive correspondence with the Commissioner of Indian Affairs throughout her career, as well as local newspaper accounts of her community achievements in Walthill, Nebraska. Picotte died on September 18, 1915.

Exhibit Case 9

Susan La Flesche Picotte
Photographic reproduction: From collections of the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Photo. no. 4503.

Graduation announcement of Susan La Flesche from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, March 14, 1889 [not shown in online exhibition].

Mention of La Flesche's entry into medical service:

"THE FIRST WOMAN PHYSICIAN AMONG HER PEOPLE. It affords us much pleasure to note the graduation of an honor conferred upon a female member of the Omaha tribe of Indians.

The lady in question is Dr. Susan La Flesche,

who has graduated at the Women's Medical College, Philadelphia. It appears that the Doctor had already become a favorite among her people, and now that she returns to take them scientific medicine, combined with Christianity, to replace the 'Medicine Man' of former days, we may feel assured of her usefulness and success among them.

The following extract is from the Southern Workman:
Dr. Walker, one of principal lecturers of the college, in his address at its commencement, spoke thus of the Indian graduate:
Dr. La Flesche commenced her studies of English at the school on the Indian reservation. Coming East, she continued them for awhile at a boarding-school, and later at the excellent school for her people at Hampton, Va., where she graduated in 1886, and came at once to Philadelphia to study medicine. The impulse to a professional career was not of recent growth nor from friendly suggestions from those who had watched her course. It came as an inspiration when at home with her people and was born of a desire to see them independent, so far as she could make them, of the too frequently unskilled and oftener indifferent attention of the reservation doctor. What must those who oppose women physicians as impossibilities or monstrosities think of such a course? Thoughtful of a service to her people, child though she was, she permits not the magnitude of her task to stay the inspiration, but bravely, thoughtfully, diligently pursues the course, and to day receives her fitting reward. All this without a precedent. She will stand among her people as the first woman physician. Surely we may record with joy such courage, constancy and ability."

Source: Medical Missionary Record, vol. 4, 1889, p. 126.

Letter from Picotte to Commissioner of Indian Affairs Francis E. Leupp, November 15, 1907.
Color reproduction of letter: Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Response to Picotte's letter, from Commissioner of Indian Affairs Francis E. Leupp, November 20, 1907. Color reproduction, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Cover sheet to typed transcript of a meeting between the Picotte-led Omaha Tribal Delegation and Washington officials at the Office of Indian Affairs, January 28, 1910. Color reproduction, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Transcript pages 8, 9, 10
Color reproduction of transcript: Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

1921 map shows Omaha and Winnebago Reservations: Note the Macy Indian Agency and town of Walthill, places where Picotte worked and lived [not shown in online exhibition].

House of Susan La Flesche Picotte: Walthill, Nebraska. She resided here from 1908 until 1915, when she died. Photographic reproduction, from collections of the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Photo. no. 54,752-A.

Picotte's obituary:

"DR. SUSAN LA FLESCHE PICOTTE, of Walthill, Neb., died at her home on September 18, aged forty-nine years. She was a daughter of Pierre La Flesche, or Iron Eye, the last of the great chiefs of the Omaha tribe, and had devoted her life to the interests of her tribe, by whom she was regarded as the leader. She was graduated from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in the class of 1889 and was a member of the Nebraska State Medical Society."

Source: Transactions of the Annual Meeting of the Alumnae Association of the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, vol. 41, 1916, p. 35.


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