Northern Plains Reservation Aid (formerly American Indian Relief Council)
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Biographies of Plains Indians

Susan La Flesche — 1865-1915

Susan La Flesche was the first Native American woman to become a physician. The sister of Susette and Francis La Fleshe she attended the missionary school on the Omaha Reservation, the Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies. In 1884 she enrolled in the Hampton Institute in Virginia, which had been established by Samuel Armstrong to educate freed slaves. Susan graduated at the top of her class and then attended Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. She secured a scholarship at the Medical College and again finished at the top of her class.

After graduation she returned to the Omaha Reservation where she served as the reservation physician. It was very rare for a Native American to hold such a position and La Flesche was the first Native American woman to do so. For five years La Flesche fought smallpox, influenza and diphtheria on the reservation traveling to visit her patients in a horse and buggy from before dawn to after dusk. She managed to control several epidemics during that time, but her hard work began to take a toll on her own health and in 1893 she resigned to recover her own health and minister to her sick mother.

In 1894 she married Henry Picotte and established a private practice in Bancroft, Nebraska. She practiced medicine in Bancroft for the rest of her life, as her health permitted. She raised two sons and lectured on health related matters. After her husband’s death in 1905 she became a Presbyterian missionary to the Omaha nation and represented them in negotiations with the government. Her final accomplishment was the building of a hospital in Walthill, Nebraska. She died at the hospital in 1915. The hospital has been declared a national historic landmark and since 1988, a festival has been held yearly in her memory.

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