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Lillie Rosa Minoka Hill

Dr. Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill was a 20th century Native American physician. She was the second Native American female doctor in the United States, after Susan La Flesche Picotte. Her granddaughter is poet and professor Roberta Hill Whiteman.

Early life

Lillie Minoka was born 30 August 1876 on the St. Regis Mohawk Indian Reservation in northern New York, in 1876. Tragically, her mother died soon after giving birth and Lillie was raised by her mother’s family until she was old enough to go to school. Lillie was never able to remember her mother. When she was about five, a Quaker doctor in Philadelphia named Joshua Allen adopted her. He was the one who called her Rosa because, as he said, “she looked more like a little rose than a lily.” When she was five years old, she was placed in the Grahame Institute, a Quaker school for girls in Philadelphia that was owned by Joshua Allen’s sister. In 1895 she graduated from High School and went to a Catholic convent in Quebec, Canada to study French. Lillie Rosa Minoka considered becoming a nurse, but her father urged her to pursue the career of a physician instead. Apparently, one of the reasons for this was that he was afraid that the long hours and strenuous lifting of nursing would be too strenuous for her small five foot two inch frame. Lillie Rose attended the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and, despite coming close to dropping out several times, received her medical degree in 1899. Hard work was not something she ran from, but rather embraced. In fact, it was something she passionately pursued throughout her life.

Marriage & Early Career

In 1900, while working at the Lincoln Institute (an Indian boarding school), Lillie met Anna Hill, an Oneida student who was attending the school. Anna introduced Lillie to Charles Abram Hill, Lillie’s future husband.

In over the five years after her graduation, she continued her work at the Lincoln Institute, and cared for women and children as an intern at the Women’s Hospital in Philadelphia. After her internship, she set up a private practice with a friend named Francis Tyson at the Lincoln Institute.

In 1905 Charles Hill proposed to her and asked her to move to Oneida, Wisconsin with him. Though life would be more primitive there than in Philadelphia and there wouldn’t even be running water, she agreed and became a farmer’s wife.

Her Practice

While pursuing a successful career as a physician, she decided to marry and move to Wisconsin. However, she did not let even this get in her way and ran a “kitchen clinic” for 40 years. Accepting food and housework in exchange for medical services and adjusting prices according to ability to pay, she was beloved by white and Native American alike. She suffered many hardships, including the death of her husband and the responsibility of being the only medical practitioner in the area, but still became a licensed practitioner, set up a boarding school where she helped poor Native American children and won several awards. She continued her services until her death and afterward a memorial and fund to assist Native Americans with money for college was set up in her honor.

Dr. Minoka-Hill soon began practicing medicine again, much to the pride of her husband. This was even though in the nine years between 1906 and 1915, she gave birth to six children, the last being twin girls in 1915. She had a “kitchen clinic” where she incorporated herbal remedies that she learned from Oneida medicine men and women and also made many house calls. She helped to teach the local population about nutrition, sanitation, and preventative medicine. Dr. Monika-Hill would sometimes accepts things like chickens as payment for her services and would adjust her prices according to what the patient could pay. For instance, the payment for the delivery of a baby could be $15, two chickens, or $9, depending on the situation. This made her popular with white and Native American patients alike, but local Native Americans also went to her because they didn’t trust other white Brown County physicians. However, this didn’t stop Brown County physicians from being supportive of her work. This community reverence and support that she had undoubtedly kept her going in the hard times that she had to endure.

The worst of these hard times started in 1916. It was then, in her eleventh year of marriage with six children and twins who were only five months old, that her husband Charles died from a sudden attack of appendicitis. He left behind a mortgaged farm and animals that Lillie needed to pay off. World War I took away the only official doctor on the reservation in 1916, leaving Lillie with the burden of tending to nearly all the local medical needs day and night. More and more often she would spend entire nights at bedsides, often walking over miles and miles of dirt and gravel with her heavy medical bag and sometimes having to use snowshoes. In 1918 her children were struck by the Influenza epidemic, and in 1922 her daughter Rosa Melissa died from Typhoid Fever. Then, in 1929, her trust fund collapsed with the stock market. Now, most people would have given up at this point. If they were in her shoes, they would have moved away from the primitive and exhausting life on the reservation and perhaps back to Philadelphia. But not Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill. She kept running her “kitchen clinic” through all of it and continued for the rest of her life.

However, the dark times did not go on forever. In 1934, other local physicians loaned her the $100 needed to pay for the application fee of becoming licensed. Being licensed allowed her to admit patients to the hospital and, after taking the necessary tests, she was able to get it. Her job also became easier when in 1939 she received assistance from a public health nurse and a government doctor and later when the government started proving food to combat malnutrition. However, a heart attack in 1946 forced Dr. Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill into semi-retirement, though she still continued her “kitchen clinic”. It was during these later years of her medical practice that she received her first electric refrigerator from her son. Lillie didn’t have electricity for most of her life and she called it “a gift straight from heaven”.

It was also around this time that Dr. Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill started receiving recognition for her work. In 1947 she was awarded the Indian Achievement Award from the Indian Fire Council of Chicago. She was also adopted by the Oneida Nation on Thanksgiving Day, making her the only person ever adopted by the entire Oneida tribe in Wisconsin. They adopted her by giving her the name “Yo-da-gent”, meaning “she who saves” or “she who carries help”. At her Tribal Adoption Ceremony, she gave this speech:

“It was 42 years last June since I came here to live. I was the bride of one of your tribe. I found I was to have good friends and kind neighbors.

It has been a privilege to be helpful to those in need of help and to do it cheerfully and as promptly as I could. Because I felt it was the Master’s work assigned to me I must therefore be a willing worker ---though sometimes a very weary worker.

Today you have honored me in a special way by taking me for your ‘almost sister’, now I can say to many of you ‘daughter’, ‘son’, ‘grandchild’. And you can say to me ‘Hocsote’. Let me express my hearty thanks for your recognition and adoption.”

A monument was erected in Oneida, Wisconsin in her honor in 1948, and she was honored by the UW College of Agriculture for service to rural people. In 1949 she was the American Medical Conference honoree in Atlantic City. That same year she became the first woman ever to have been voted a lifetime honorary membership in the Wisconsin Medical Association (the state medical society) when she received the letter bearing the news, she said, “As much as I appreciate kind thoughts, I do not relish too much publicity!”

Dr. Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill suffers a fatal heart attack on March 18 in 1952. She never drank a drop of alcohol in her whole life, served as Health Officer in town of Hobart for 12 years, was a member of the school board in Green Bay, and rode on the county snow plow to reach patients during blizzards. She was beloved by all, delivered nearly 500 babies in her more than 50 years as a medical practitioner, and set up a boarding school for American Indian children. In 1959 the Haskell College dubbed a new girl’s dormitory on campus “Minoka Hall” and in 1975 her son, Norbert Hill, established The Dr. Rosa Minoka Hill Fund, which grants scholarships to Native Americans.

Memorial

Outside of the town of[Oneida there is a granite monument erected in honor of Dr. Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill in 1952, the same year as her death. The inscription says: “Physician, Good Samaritan, and friend of People of all religions in this community, erected to her memory by the Indians and white people.” It also says “I was sick and you visited me.”

References

  • http://justgarciahill.org/jghdocs/webbiographydtl.asp
  • http://216.109.125.130/search/cache?p=Rosa+Minoka+Hill&fr=FP-tab-web-t500&toggle=1&ei=UTF-8&u=www.uwgb.edu/bauera/angiesweb/MinScientists/Lillie%2520Rosa%2520Minoka-Hill.ppt&w=rosa+minoka+hill&d=OtitESQ8NWSc&icp=1&.intl=us
  • http://aphastudents.org/docs/0305_Diversity_Committee_Fact_Sheet.pdf
  • http://www.american-indian-review.co.uk/American%20Indian%20Review%2005.html
  • http://archives.drexelmed.edu/womanmd/xsearch.php?search_by=Minoka&search_param=keyword
  • http://www.wisconline.com/cgi-bin/aaw_catalog.pl?t=key&keysearch=minoka&t=key
  • http://216.109.125.130/search/cache?p=Rosa+Minoka+Hill&fr=FP-tab-web-t500&toggle=1&ei=UTF-8&u=www.uwgb.edu/bauera/angiesweb/MinScientists/Student%2520Presentation.ppt&w=rosa+minoka+hill&d=IPucnCQ8NVRK&icp=1&.intl=us

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