The First American Indian Doctor

February 3, 2023

Susan La Flesche Picotte became the first American Indian woman to graduate from medical school, and is notable for founding an independently funded hospital on the Omaha reservation in Nebraska.

Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865-1915) grew up on the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska at a time when the U.S. government was forcing American Indian tribes onto reservations and mandating their assimilation into white society. Her parents encouraged her pursuit of an Anglo-American education, and Picotte graduated from Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1889, becoming the first American Indian female physician. She returned to the Omaha reservation and, after a brief period working as a doctor for the Office of Indian Affairs, spent her career making house calls on foot and horse-drawn buggy across its 1,350 square miles. In addition to her medical work, La Flesche was a community leader, working tirelessly for her tribe to combat the theft of American Indian land and public health crises including the spread of tuberculosis and alcoholism. In 1913, Picotte fulfilled her lifelong dream of founding a hospital on the Omaha reservation.

Interviewees: biographer Joe Starita, author of A Warrior of the People: How Susan La Flesche Overcame Racial and Gender Inequality to Become America’s First Indian DoctorRenée Sans Souci, Omaha Teaching Artist & Educator; and Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, also Standing Rock Sioux, and the first woman to lead the Indian Health Service, appointed by President Obama in 2009.

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