Susan La Flesche Picotte: Know About The 1st American Indian Doctor

Who is the Susan La Flesche Picotte?

Who is the Susan La Flesche Picotte


Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte was the first American Indian female doctor to get her medical degree and an Omaha, who was also a social reformer. This lady was born on June 17th in the year 1865. She is renowned for her active participation in campaigning for medical healthcare facilities and has been a part of the formal and legal cases of land distribution issues with the Omaha tribe. Susan La Picotte was a member of the 19th-century Moderation movement and she discouraged against reservations to drinking. As a part of her reservation camps, she participated and raised voice for spreading awareness about tuberculosis when she was a working physician at that time.

The Omaha bureaucracy that comes under the Office of the Indian Affairs (OIA) was questioned by many protests under the leadership of Susan La Flesche Picotte for the rights of justice to be given by making the tribe people receive their money from their lands sold. Picotte’s remarkable medical career as a general physician and as a health advocate just sways the surface of her ultimate legacy. She was seen more than a reservation’s doctor as Susan La Flesche Picotte had also player her roles as an advisor, a strong confident, and also she was the symbol of hope and glow for the whole community of Omaha.


Susan’s Personal and Family Life



Suzanne or Susan was from the place Eastern place, 70 miles north of Omaha reservation called Nebraska. Her mother was Wow-Wincciaca, also called as Mary Gale, was a half French and half English female who knew both the languages well but preferred to converse in Omaha. Susan’s father was Joseph Laflesh who was also stated as ‘Iron Eye’ was also of the same language origin similar to his wife’s. Educated from St. Louis, he returned back to Omaha as a young male and served as the Chief Executive Young in the year 1853 by Los. Joseph lately became the leader of his whole tribe from the times of 1855. In part of supporting his community, he encouraged the ideas of assimilation and hence it caused some clashes around the place at that time.


Susan La Flesche Picotte was the youngest child of the couple’s 4 girl children. They were namely- Suzette (1854-1903), Rosalie (1861-1900) and Marguerite (1862-1945). When Susan La Flesche Picotte grew up well, she had learned the traditions and cultures of her heritage, but her father Joseph, felt that a few specific native rituals would be harmful to her in their white world. He eventually prevented her youngest daughter from getting herself her name of Omaha or the traditional tattoos followed by her community members across her forehead. Susan spoke in Omaha language with her parents, but her father and her older sister Suzette had lately encouraged her to speak in English with all her sisters.



Educational Background of Susan La Flesche Picotte 


Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte’s first educational years started in the mission school under the governance of Presbyterians initially, and later by the Quakers, after the degree of Peace Policy in 1869. She was assimilated and was ruled to follow the principles of the Whites who eliminated Susan and some other native children also in turning them as per their regulations. She was later moved to Elizabeth Institute in New Jersey and studied there for two and a half years and had returned back to her reservations in  1882. The years of 1884 to 1886 was spent by one more education in Hampton, Virginia.


In Hampton University, girls were mastering household skills and boys the art of nurturing others to the adherence of the Whites. Susan La Flesche Picotte was admiring and romantically following a young Sioux man-Thomas Ikinikepi. She had even fondly referred to him as ‘TI’. She later broke off the relationship when she left the place. Girls from the university were generally converted as Christian wives or mothers but Susan showed interest in turning to the medical side. During the time of the 19th century, it was a bit unique for a Victorian woman to pursue medicine as a degree, even though it was common for an Omaha lady to care and heal others. Susan La Flesche Picotte did her medical schooling effectively in Women’s College of Medicine of Pennsylvania (WMCP)-established in 1850, which had female students studying there especially since it was a time where females were treated unfit for medical education as they were regarded as unable to control the stress from higher educations.


The medical study was costly at that time and Susan could not afford to pay comfortably and so she approached her friend-Alice Cunningham Fletcher family who was an ethnographer from Massachusetts who helped Susan through her contacts from many women reformers. She suggested Susan go for the Indian Connecticut Association which was also called as the Women’s National Indian Association (WNIA) which sought to promote the Victorian values with the help of medical nurses teaching the girl students there the forms of purity and piety. The WNIA liked the idea proposed by Susan about helping others get awareness about their medical health and they offered her scholarships for Loughflesh Medical School expenses including for her books, housing facilities, and other supplies needed.


Susan La Flesche Picotte did her therapeutic studies in Philadelphia alongside her peers after pursuing subjects like chemistry, anatomy, physiology, biology, histology, obstetrics, pharmaceutical science, and a lot more. March 14th of 1889 was the day she mastered her education by topping her education for her rigorous medical study of 3 years.  She became the Government doctor at the Indian Omaha Agency School after two months of her graduation. She later planned to execute her ideas with the Indian people thinking the White civilization would benefit them. Agreeing upon her plans, Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte had a medical missionary in her reservations at Omaha after her medical graduation, and the Association funded for her medical instruments and books during her early years of practicing her medical study in Nebraska.


Not only guiding children and adults with her medical practice, she even did mundane chores like writing and translating official documents as and when required. With a Government salary of $ 500.00 per year and $ 250 from the WNIA for her missionary works medically, Susan La Flesche Picotte traveled a lot in her reservations for visiting and caring her patients who were affected by dysentery, trachoma, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, etc.


Unfortunately, in December 1892, she herself became very sick leading her bedridden for so many weeks, and she still had to take care of her dying mother and keeping personal life in mind, she resigned from her domestic works. Susan was later married to Henry Picot in the year 1894, who was an Indian Sioux from the agency of Yankton. He was known to have married before and had been divorced. The couple had two children namely a boy Caril, born in 1896 and a girl Pierre, who was born in early 1898. With the help and support from her husband, Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte resumed her medical works serving both her own Omaha community members and the Whites in and around the cities of Bancroft. It was unusual at those times of Victorian Era, for females to work since women were forced to stay inside houses and be as a full-time mother. She later started to actively participate in various reforms and crisis involving the medical setting.


Medical Reforms of Susan Flesche 



Other than the caregiving system, Susan La Flesche Picotte spread information about preventive medicine and helped her community members for their moderation. Disreputable Whites made the Omaha people consume alcohol and even her husband Henry was an alcoholic. Thus, Susan wanted to renovate the damaged situation from this evoked methods of her members.


She started this reforming by a protest in the 1980s where Susan La Flesche Picotte forced action against the Thurston County that sold ballot tickets for drinking even against the law. Mailklejon bill was passed which forced on outlawing the sales of the alcoholic product which became a legal rule from January 1897 still, making it impossible to action-out. During the 1900s the Meskala religion came and reconnected with Susan and thus she fought for alcoholism for the rest of her life.


Not only moderation but also, Susan has helped the Omaha tribe for receiving proper food and health sanitation and also hygiene was practiced, all in efforts to combat the spread of Tuberculosis. She had served on the Waltill City Health Committee as Susan La Flesche Picotte was the founding member of the Thurston County Medical Society in the year 1907. She was also the chairperson for Nebraska’s State Medical Committee during the first decade of the 20th century. She gave importance to schools and understood that education becomes the ultimate key for fighting any diseases. In the year 1913, Susan spread awareness in a hospital at the reservation and late, after the construction, it was named after her honors. Her biggest campaigning was seen against the fight for tuberculosis. Susan lost so many Omaha members including her Husband from this medical condition and thus wrote to the Indian office, asking for help, which they had refused due to lack of proper economical resources. Without losing hope, she still reformed again TB by understanding its casual factors and enforced people for cleanliness, getting fresh air, and the maximum destruction of house flies which were the biggest carries of the disease.


Susan’s Important Public and Political Participation


There were continuing issues of land allocation and its resources among the Omaha tribe and Susan La Flesche Picotte gave extraordinary support for the people and even for herself as her husband Henry had left her with some 185 acres of land that was under the nomination of the government. The heirs had to get the lands by having to prove their competence with some legal guardian’s behalf. After sending tons of letters to the government, one of the agents of the reservation R.J. Taylor granted her permission in the year 1907, 2 years after the death of Henry. Peter Picotte, one of Susan’s cousins was also a legal guardian for the lands and thus he was also fighting for his resources. Susan again sent so many letters concerning Peter was an alcoholic by bombarding the head of the Indian office- Commissioner Leupp. Receiving proper attention from the agent, Leupp was informed to ignore the objections raised by Peter for the land allocation. This was not her end.


Dr. Susan Las Flesche Picotte still continued her participation for the sake of her Omaha members for the issues with bureaucracy. Later, it found that two of her men committed a syndicate by having fraud connections with their land by cheating and escaping their own heirs. Susan became more knowledgeable and getting their rights, in the year 1910, she went to Washington, DC for speaking with some officials in the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA) and spoke with them about the same.


The reforming was also an indirect ingredient of her campaigns against the consolidation of the Omaha tribe members and the Winnebago agencies that were proposed in the year 1904 and revived lately in 1910. Susan La Flesche Picotte showed active participation for the movement among her members opposing to this consolidation, and she used letters and sharply found critical newspaper articles to convincingly express their community’s point of view to the bureaucracy of OYI. She debated that the unnecessary bureaucracy produced by the consolidation was only an additional burden for them and was extra evidence that OIA reviewed them as some children and not as true citizens, ready for participating in the democracy. Susan still continued to work on behalf of Omaha until her end of the life, even though much of her powers seemingly went in vain, as her members lost many of the ancestral lands and they eventually became relaying over the OIA.


Death of Dr. Susan Usan La Flesche Picotte


Susan La Flesche Picotte had suffered from a serious chronic illness from her school days that she understood from her breathing problems. She became very ill in the middle of 1892, leaving her bedridden for months, where she found suffering chronic pain in her neck, ears, and head. Her internal organs became significantly damaged after falling from a horse in the year 1893. As age passed, her health started to decline, and once in March 1915, she was left very much down over her health and late she had expired on September 18th of 1915 due to recorded bone cancer. Her children are continuing to live their lives and the hospital in Walthill in Nebraska is now a reservation community centre under the name of Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte.


Few Good Facts To Know About Susan Picotte 


  • General Byron M. Clutcheon, the winner of civil war medal, awarded the final year graduate Susan La Flesche Picotte with the Demorest prize of the Gold medal for her excellence in academics.


  • Susan La Flesche Picotte did not try to change the Victorian Era, nor she tried to leave the women’s sphere of roles; she expanded the skills she knows to her tribe, to her neighborhood, and to the Whites.


  • Before 31 years women could vote and before 35 years females could actually be recognized as American citizens, Susan became the first woman physician.


  • She was a true American Heroine and thus Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte is known as Dr. Sue by her parents.


  • It is believed that Susan’s ideal value was to search for a purpose and then live for the same instead of trying to avoid pain and suffering.


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