Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte

Resources

Learn More About Dr. Susan, Her Family & The Omaha Tribe

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First Native American Physician 1889
These are the Native American tribes mentioned in early Nebraskan historic records from roughly 1770 to 1850 CE.
Susan La Flesche Picotte
The oldest daughter of Joseph La Flesche, the last recognized chief of the Omaha.
She was America’s first Native doctor, breaking barriers of race and gender to heal her traumatized people. A century later, Native women from many tribes follow in her footsteps. How can they hope to mend wounds of body and spirit that history has created? And what have they learned about new ways of healing that can help us all?
Susan La Flesche graduates from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania at the head of her class. She’s the first Native American to become a medical doctor at a time in history when even the most privileged white woman faced an uphill battle.
For many years, Doctor Picotte had dreamed of building her own hospital—a place of healing in the heart of her community. That hospital was finally built and dedicated in 1913. Two years after the hospital opened Doctor Susan La Flesche Picotte died at home in Walthill.
As a child in frontier Nebraska, Susan La Flesche witnessed the death of a member of her tribe–because the agency doctor never showed up. The experience drove her to accomplish the seemingly impossible–to become the first Native American doctor and to build her own hospital on the Omaha reservation. Omaha means “against the current“ — so she was just being true to her Omaha culture. Two members of her tribe, Wehnona Stabler and Lisa Drum, tell Doctor Susan’s story from the Omaha point of view. UNL Professor of History, Margaret Jacobs, offers insights into the Presbyterian Mission School on the reservation. This is an excerpt from the NET documentary Medicine Woman.
This story explores the brief intertwining of two remarkable women: the very first Native American doctor and a Nobel Prize winning scientist. In 1915, Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte, the first Native American doctor and the daughter of a powerful Omaha chief, lay dying of cancer in her home on the Omaha Indian Reservation. Picotte’s family reached out to the famous Madame Curie for a possible cure. Curie responded by sending a special package from France to Picotte’s home.

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