Susan LaFlesche Picotte: One heck of a role model
How are you doing all? I hope you are enjoying your weekend. Such beautiful weather on the
West Coast! If you know my Facebook page, you will have seen my post about a wonderful Native woman by the name of Susan LaFlesche-Picotte, who was the first Native woman to become a physician in the USA. You go girl! What a good role model! So, today, I will be discussing her life and her contributions to the Native people. Go Susan LaFlesche Picotte!
P.S. Notice my new header? What are your thoughts about it? It was made by a wonderful artist named Rory CJ Frankson. See his Facebook page. Thanks Rory!!
The early life of Susan LaFlesche and the world she was living in
Susan was born in June 1865 on the Omaha Indian Reservation in Nebraska. Her father was Chief Joseph LaFlesche (Iron Eyes) of the Omaha tribe and her mother was Mary (One Woman).
Both wanted Susan and her siblings (she had three sisters) to be exposed to both worlds, the Native world and the White man world. She attended school on a reservation and then went into the White man’s world to get the education she felt she needed to get to help her people.
Let’s just think for a second about the time period Susan was born into and grew up in. She was born in a time of war. Wars regarding the land, regarding basic human rights taken away from the Native people. A time during which every power of decision was taken away. Parents were forced to send their children to residential school, people were confined to live on reservations that they did not even control. Food and basic essentials were rationed, the land that used to be theirs, actually the land they came from, where they lived with all their relations, was taken away. Ceremonies and traditional ways of living were outlawed. Holy!
And what did Susan do about it? She became a freaking doctor! Talk about showing them! Maybe without knowing it, she used her own experience growing up on a poor diseased reservation. Maybe it helped her choose her destiny. It is said that her seeing a sick Native woman die because she was being refused services by a white doctor, made her want to change her people’s conditions. She might not have consciously known it at the time but she embarked on a mission to better her life and the life of her people.
Her education in the White world
She then went on to attend the Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies and later the Hampton Institute in Virginia, from which she graduated in 1886. But she was not satisfied. So she did not stop there. Oh no! Encouraged by a mentor she applied for a scholarship with the U.S. office of Indian Affairs, which she received and used to attend the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. And yes people, she became a medical doctor 4 years later! A Native woman doctor. The epitome of living in both worlds.
Following her education, Susan went back home and worked for a government hospital, caring for both Native and white patients. She did her best to improve the conditions of her people by educating them on cleanliness and hygiene and ventilation (as tuberculosis was rampant at the time). It could be said that she worked with dedication, oftentimes having to buy supplies with her own money (as her salary was little) and making house calls at all times of the day in frigid weather (let’s face it, Nebraska winters are cold!). But the very long days took a toll on Susan, who was bedridden for 2 months in 1893.
Balancing all of her roles
She then went on to marry Henry Picotte, a Sioux man, and they eventually moved to a different Nebraska town. At the time, the typical role of married women was to stay home and raise kids. Well not for Susan! Not only did she raise their two kids, she also opened her own private practice and worked full time. Not only that, she also took care of Henry who suffered from
alcoholism. Following his death in 1905, Susan became vocal about alcohol on reservations, advocating for its prohibition. All the while, Susan created controversy by supporting the Peyote movement (the use of peyote in Native rituals and traditions). As a medical doctor, her stance put her against numerous of her colleagues. But she also advocated for better conditions on reservations and against the stealing and selling of the land. She also made it a point to show that she could oversee her husband’s estate just as much as a male relative.
Susan was a force to be reckoned with. She used her medical background to teach and educate her people on the importance of hygiene and disease prevention, eventually opening a hospital on the Omaha reservation town of Walthill, Nebraska. She brought the missing care of her childhood to her people. I would describe Susan as a kick ass woman! I am sorry but she rocked. She did not bow down to the traditional roles and stereotypes of the white world. She showed the world she could do more and she did. She stood up for what she believed in and became a role model. She showed the world what a woman can do. She was caring, strong, determined and nurturing. And I can identify a lot with that. I am not the traditional woman. Some say I am stubborn but I say I am determined. I have ambition and I am not satisfied with doing the strict minimum. I speak up when I feel I need to, call people on their bullshit while being caring and nurturing. I have a feeling Susan and I would have gotten along very well. 🙂
What do you all think about Susan LaFlesche Picotte? Are you finding her to be an inspiration too?
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