Biography of Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte

photo Biography of Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte

Susan La Flesche Picotte and how she changed the world

When Susan was a child a “white” physician refused to provide treatment to an ill Indian woman. That woman died but changed the fate of a little girl. Susan decided to become a physician. This tragic incident inspired her to do whatever is needed to obtain necessary knowledge and treat patients in her reservation.

Early years

Mary Gale gave birth to a child on June 17, 1865, during the difficult times when Native Americans suffered from drastic changes. There were already three daughters in the family. Susan’s parents came from different backgrounds so they desired their daughters to acknowledge two worlds. This led the future physician to attend a local school.

After graduation, she entered Elizabeth Institute. After finishing her studies at Elizabeth Institute, she entered the Hampton Institute in Virginia and finished it in 1886.

Since she was growing up at the reservation, the future physician observed poor conditions in which her neighbors lived. Diseases and poverty prevented them from living a normal life. So she chose to take the initiative and fix this situation.


While studying at Hampton, she was inspired by her teacher to apply for a scholarship from the government. When this request was confirmed, she became the first girl to gain help in receiving training as a professional. During those times not all the colleges accepted women. She entered Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1886.

Correspondence with one of her sisters indicated that she was fascinated with her first steps in the “white” world. Studying in Philadelphia she wrote that she was astonished to see the luxurious dresses women wore there. She also wrote that she became more fashionable while wearing such dresses though missed more comfortable moccasins.

Working as a physician

After finishing the medical program which lasted three years in 1889 at the age of 36 Susan La Flesche became the first Native American woman in the whole country, who became a physician. She completed one year of internship and arrived home so she could fix the situation. While working at school as a physician, she treated over a thousand people.

Being highly educated, the young woman tried to teach people by telling them about the importance of hygiene. Moreover, she consulted people about the importance of fresh air and how it affects health. She explained the consequences of not throwing out the trash and not killing flies. She clarified that unsanitary conditions can lead to multiple diseases, especially flies that transport many dangerous illnesses that lead to fatal outcome.

Working as a medical practitioner she found out that the job is extremely difficult. She received only 500 dollars a year as payment. Moreover, the government financed the tribe but when they ran out of money it was Susan who used her own money to buy what was needed in order to treat people. She was a thoughtful doctor.

During the winter of 1891 not only did she treat over a hundred patients a month, but also visited the homes of those who couldn’t come. She worked for twenty hours each day.Soon enough this tiresome schedule had an impact on her health and in 1893 she couldn’t get up from her bed for two long months. Taking into the account the fact that sometimes she visited her patients during severe weather conditions, this illness was inevitable.

Marriage and private medical practice

In 1894, she got married to Henry Picotte, after a while they moved to Bancroft. She raised two of their children while setting up private medical practice. Unfortunately, Henry was suffering from alcoholism which lead to his early death in 1905. This event influenced Susan so she decided to eradicate bad impact of the alcohol on the reservations.

In 1906 she was the one to lead a delegation to Washington to try to persuade the authorities to prohibit alcohol on Indian lands.

Final years and death

She tried to popularize hygiene standards and illness prevention among her people. She made her dream come true: in 1913 she opened a hospital. Sadly, she was seriously ill, probably because she worked really hard during her whole life, raised children and took care for her husband during the eleven years they were married.

When she became older she started experiencing difficulties which prevented her from doing her job as a doctor. In 1915 La Flesche became depleted and soon died on September 18, 1915. It is believed that the cause of death was cancer.

Though she had only fifty years to change the drastic conditions in which tribal people lived, she managed to accomplish many important tasks. Many of those the things she did seemed to be unimportant, but not to Susan.

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