BORN IN JUNE, BORN IN NEBRASKA
Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte, 1865-1915
The first American Indian woman to become a physician in the United States was born on the Omaha Reservation in Thurston County in northeast Nebraska.
Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte was born June 17, 1865 to Waoo-Winchatcha (Mary Gale), who was half French and half Omaha, and Joseph LaFlesche (Chief Iron Eye), who was half white and half Omaha.
Dr. Picotte was educated at Hampton Institute in Virginia and the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, graduating at the top of her class in 1889. It was unusual for women to attend medical schools; many social conservatives believed that women weren’t able to “manage the mental strain of higher education.”
As a child, Picotte had witnessed the death of a member of her tribe because the agency doctor never came. In her private practice, she treated both tribal and white patients, advocating for better health care for all. In 1912 she founded a reservation hospital, which was later named in her honor.
Picotte crusaded against tuberculosis, which killed hundreds of Omaha, including her husband Henry in 1905. With no cure available, she advocated cleanliness, fresh air, and the eradication of houseflies, believed to be major carriers of TB. She also campaigned against alcohol, lecturing about the virtues of temperance and embracing prohibition laws.
Dr. Picotte died at the age of 50, on September 18, 1915 in Walthill, Nebraska – probably of bone cancer. She is buried in Bancroft Cemetery in Bancroft, Nebraska.