Susan LaFlesche Picotte was the first Native American to earn a medical degree. On June 17, 1865, she was born on the Omaha Reservation in the United States to Joseph LaFlesche and Mary Gale, the daughter of an Army surgeon. Her parents were both biracial and did not always live on the reservation. Susan had three older sisters and a half-brother her age. Her parents wanted her to have as many opportunities as possible in the white world, so she was not given an Omaha name. She began her education on the reservation and continued her education at the Elizabeth Institute in Elizabeth, New Jersey. In 1882, she returned to the reservation to teach before attending the Hampton Institute until 1886. She applied to medical school after graduating.
Interesting facts about Susan LaFlesche Picotte:
Susan witnessed an Indian woman die as a child because a white doctor refused to help her. Some believe this influenced her decision to become a doctor.
In the late 1800s, it was uncommon for women to attend medical school. Susan was accepted to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.
The Connecticut Indian Association, which aimed to promote Victorian virtues, paid for Susan’s school.
Susan was the first person in the United States to receive federal funding for her professional education. She was required to remain single throughout her education and for several years afterward in order to concentrate on her career.
Susan majored in obstetrics, pharmaceutical science, physiology, anatomy, and chemistry, among other things. She also took part in clinical research in Philadelphia.
While attending medical school, Susan began to dress and appear more like her white classmates.
On March 14, 1889, Susan LaFlesche graduated as valedictorian.
Susan applied for the position of government physician at the Omaha Agency Indian School and was hired two months later.
During Susan’s first few years of practice in Nebraska, the Association that had funded her education also assisted in covering the costs of medical instruments and books.
Susan, as the government physician at the Omaha Agency Indian School, also cared for other members of the community who were ill. She was supposed to teach the students about hygiene and keep them as healthy as possible at school.
Susan frequently made house calls in the neighborhood to care for the sick. She treated patients suffering from cholera, influenza, dysentery, and tuberculosis, among other ailments.
Susan became ill in 1892 and was forced to take time off to recover.
Susan met Henry Picotte, a Sioux Indian, in 1894. That June, they married. They had two children together.
Susan worked after the birth of her sons, which was unusual for a woman at the time.
Susan fought for prohibition on the reservations because her husband, like many others, was an alcoholic, resulting in poor health for many.
Susan joined the temperance movement a year after her husband died, in 1906.
Susan raised enough money from private sources to establish a hospital on the reserve in 1913.
Susan’s health deteriorated over time, and she died of bone cancer in 1915.