During the month of March, Sound celebrates Women’s History Month, placing a spotlight on the accomplishments of women throughout history who have made an impact on society. This week, we recognize Susan La Flesche Picotte, the first Native American woman to earn a medical degree.
Susan La Flesche Picotte
Susan La Flesche Picotte was the first Native American woman to obtain a medical degree in 1889. Dr. Picotte had grown up on an Omaha, Nebraska reservation at a time when the U. S. Government was forcing tribes onto reservations, stripping away their culture and simultaneously requiring them to assimilate into white society.
Encouraged by her parents, she pursued her education and graduated from Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1889, becoming the first American Indian female physician. Dr. Picotte returned to the Omaha reservation and worked as a doctor for the Office of Indian Affairs. She made house calls on foot and riding on horse-drawn buggies across a 1,350 square area.
Dr. Picotte also toiled to halt the theft of American Indian land and help those who suffered from tuberculosis, influenza, and alcoholism. During her career, she treated over 1300 people. In 1913, Dr. Picotte fulfilled her lifelong dream of founding a hospital on the Omaha reservation.
In 1894, she married Henry Picotte and they had two sons. After her marriage, the wife and mother settled down with her husband and went into private practice, providing medical care for both Native and European Americans.
Sound Team Member, Cathy Callahan, is an admirer of Picotte and her unwavering spirit and resoluteness. “Earning her medical degree was an incredible feat for any woman, or Native American, in the 19th Century,” Callahan says.
Dr. Picotte played a critical role in raising funds to open Walthill Hospital in Nebraska in 1913. The hospital was renamed Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte Memorial Hospital in 1915 after her death. The hospital was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1993.