Issue 16: Susan La Flesche Picotte + Free Coloring Page
By Melanie Gasmen-Fleck
Get ready to cross the Great Plains into Omaha Nation. Issue 16 spotlights Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte, the first Native American doctor. Susan dedicated her life to caring for others, including treating over 1,000 fellow tribe members across 1,300 square miles. She often traveled on foot and horseback through heavy winds, downpours, and below-zero temperatures to see a patient in need.
As a woman and Native American, Susan faced many hardships throughout her life and broke every barrier along the way. She’s a shining example of what it means to have compassion, and we couldn’t be more excited to share her remarkable story with you.
Issue 16 may be our favorite issue yet. It’s filled with facts about the Omaha people, fun activities inspired by the medical field, cool healthy habits, and ways to live life with compassion like Susan did.
Folks: This is not an issue to miss! We’re so excited for this launch that we’re sharing a free coloring page from issue 16. Click the link below to access the coloring page.
CLICK HERE FOR YOUR FREE SUSAN COLORING PAGE.
Learn more about Susan’s life and her powerful impact on the world before the issue comes out. Want your copy first? Subscribe now!
Susan was born on June 17, 1865 on the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska. As one of the chief’s daughters, she felt a duty to care for the Omaha people and preserve the tribe’s many cultural traditions.
Decades before Susan was born, European settlers pressured the U.S government to take land from the Omaha people. By the time Susan grew up on the reservation, the Omaha Nation lost a bulk of their land. Throughout her life, white settlers discriminated against Native Americans and forced their beliefs and ways of life on them. All while refusing to recognize Native Americans as U.S. citizens.
As a child, Susan saw this prejudice first-hand when she stayed at the bedside of a gravely sick Native American woman. The doctor who served the area was white, and even after being called on four times, he never came. The next day, the woman died. Susan knew the doctor didn’t make an effort because the woman was Native American. This tragedy prompted Susan to strive to be a physician for her people.
Growing up, Susan studied hard and excelled at academics. She went to a mission school on the reservation, then attended a girls’ school in New Jersey. She then spent time at Virginia’s Hampton Institute before returning to the reservation to teach.
While there, Susan met anthropologist Alice Fletcher. She encouraged Susan to go to medical school and helped her secure scholarships to do so. Susan then enrolled at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP), where she graduated at the top of her class.
After graduating, Susan was hired as a doctor for the Omaha reservation’s boarding school. Even though she was supposed to only treat children, adults started asking to see her, and she never turned them down. With a rich knowledge of Indigenous healing customs and her expertise in modern medicine, Susan became a doctor many trusted.
Soon, at the age of 24, Susan became the reservation’s only doctor. She was the first woman and Native American to hold such a position. Dr. Sue, as many called her, traveled thousands of miles to treat illnesses and injuries, and teach people life-saving hygiene practices. Throughout her career, she faced influenza outbreaks, tuberculosis epidemics, and campaigned for temperance for the reservation.
Susan was not only an advocate for public health. She was also a mother, a teacher, a social worker, a mediator, and helped patients who couldn’t read or write English with their legal correspondence. She was also fluent in Omaha, French, and other native languages, which she used to help others.
Susan was also a voice for Native American rights. She was selected to lead an Omaha Tribal Delegation in Washington, D.C., where she addressed the needs of her tribe.
After leaving her post as the reservation’s doctor, Susan created her own clinic in her home. Her practice was open to everyone at all hours of the day. She even left a lamp burning at night to help people find their way to her.
In 1913, Susan achieved her dream of opening a hospital on Omaha land, which she raised funds for herself. It was the first hospital on a reservation to not be funded by the government. Her hospital stayed open for nearly 30 years and became a National Historic Landmark in 1993. Two years after her hospital opened, Susan died from bone cancer at age 50.
Susan’s legacy of service lives on through the countless patients she cared for and those she continues to inspire today. Her perseverance, kindness, and commitment to helping others make her a brave role model we can all look up to.