Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte (June 17 1865 - September 18 1915) was the first person to receive federal aid for education and the first American Indian woman to become a physician in the United States.
Susan La Flesche was born to Chief Joseph La Flesche (Iron Eye) and his wife, Mary (One Woman) on the Omaha Reservation in northeastern Nebraska. The Native American activists Susette LaFlesche Tibbles and Francis LaFlesche are her siblings.
She attended school in northeastern Nebraska until age fourteen. Her father, the last recognized chief of his tribe, encouraged his people to seek education and build relationships with white reform groups. After being homeschooled for several years, Picotte was sent to the Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies in New Jersey, and returned home at age 17 to teach at the Quaker Mission School on the Omaha Reservation for two years.
As a child, she had watched a sick Indian woman die because the local white doctor would not give her care. Picotte later credited this tragedy as her inspiration to train as a physician, so she could provide care for the people she lived with on the reservation.
While working at the Quaker school, La Flesche attended to the health of ethnologist Alice Fletcher, who was working there. With Fletcher's urging, she went back East to complete her education and earn a medical degree. She enrolled at Hampton Institute, one of the nation's first and finest schools of higher education for non-white students. The resident physician there, Martha Waldron, was a graduate of the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) and encouraged her to apply to the Woman's Medical College.
Alice Fletcher helped La Flesche by securing scholarship funds from the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs and the Connecticut Indian Association, a branch of the Women's National Indian Association. After only two years in a three-year program at WMCP, Susan La Flesche graduated in 1889 at the top of her class. She remained in Philadelphia to complete year's internship, and then returned home to provide health care to the Omaha people at the government boarding school, where she was responsible for some twelve hundred people.
Susan La Flesche married Henry Picotte in 1894 and the couple moved to Bancroft, Nebraska, where she set up a private practice, serving both white and non-white patients. Along with her busy practice, Picotte also raised two sons and nursed her husband through a terminal illness.
In 1906 she led a delegation to Washington, D.C., to lobby for prohibition of alcohol on the reservation. In 1913, two years before her death, she saw her life's dream fulfilled when she opened a hospital in the reservation town of Walthill, Nebraska.