Susan La Flesche

Susan La Flesche, Physician

The first Native American doctor. Graduated valedictorian of her class from the first medical school in the USA established for women. Fluent in both her native tongue and English. A painter. A pianoist.  However, as a woman she lacked the right to vote, and because she was an Indian, she didn’t count as an American citizen.

Spurred on by a childhood of a community split between assimilating into white culture or maintaining their own, and the experience of watching a woman die because the doctor wouldn’t show up to care for an Indian woman, Dr. Susan became such a caring doctor and advocate for her patients on her reservation that patients refused to see anyone else, forcing her white counterparts to quit and making her the only doctor on a 1350 square mile stretch.

Later, Dr. Susan opened a private practice in Nebraska where she treated both Indians and whites. She advocated against alcoholism, which she saw destroy the lives of many of her patients, including her husband, and for practicalities like proper hygiene and screen doors to keep disease and bugs that carried disease at bay.

In 1915, before her death, she opened her dream hospital, the first modern hospital in Thurston County, Nebraska.

Citation and further reading: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/incredible-legacy-susan-la-flesche-first-native-american-earn-medical-degree-180962332/