HISTORICAL LANDMARKS Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte
In what ways did Dr. Picotte bridge the gap between the separate spheres of men and
women and Nativeness and assimilation in her work?
Dr. Picotte: Changing the Flow
Research compiled by: Adrianna B., Heather C., Jathiyah C.
While away at college in Pennsylvania, Dr. Picotte wrote many letters back to her family in Nebraska. This artifact is a letter written by Susan LaFlesche to her sister Rosalie on January 12, 1887. In this letter, she explains an important decision she was making between her education and career or marrying Thomas Ikinicapi (T.I.). This helps us to understand Dr. Picotte more because at a time when women were not supposed to value their education, she chose a unique path by resisting expectations for white women. She also felt pressure to make the decision because the Connecticut Indian Association told her if she married T.I. they would not fund her medical degree. Although she chose to make college a priority when she wrote the letter, later in her career she decided to marry Henry Picotte and had two children. Like many women throughout history she faced the challenge of social pressures to balance home and career responsibilities.
Dr. Picotte really cared for her tribe because she stayed in school so she could take her knowledge back to her reservation. Dr. Picotte dressed and acted like the white women she went to school with but stayed true to her Native roots by coming back to help the reservation and by building a hospital there. As her great-nephew Dennis Farley said, “She had a foot in each world. She followed some traditional ways, and she fit in with the Euro-American elite too.” (Artifact courtesy of LaFlesche Family Collection, Nebraska State Historical Society; PDF copy courtesy of Princella Parker)
While Susan LaFlesche Picotte was a young doctor on the Omaha Reservation, she longed for a hospital so she would not have to send her patients to Omaha or Sioux City for surgery or seek them out individually on horseback. Susan also wanted the hospital to show that her tribe didn’t need the government’s help and that the Omaha people could care for their own medical needs. She enlisted the help of community members and raised $10,000 which was enough to build a hospital in Walthill, NE, on the Omaha Reservation. The hospital opened in 1913. It contained two general wards with the capacity of twelve beds, five private wards, a maternity ward, an operating room, two bathrooms, a kitchen, and a reception room. It served both Natives and whites instead of being segregated. Just two years later, Dr. Picotte died at age fifty due to bone cancer in her ear. After her death the hospital served patients until the 1940s. In 1993, the hospital was declared a national historic landmark that honors her with displays of her life, education, culture, and tribe. Today the hospital museum is open by appointment. Like many small local historical landmarks throughout the U.S., finding enough funding is difficult, so the hospital cannot be open full time and is in need of restoration.
The above photo is from an OPS elementary school named after Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte. The school used to be on 1312 Robertson Drive in Omaha. The school opened in the fall of 1992. A year passed and the school moved on March 25, 1993, to 144th and Ohio Street where it is still to this day. The mascot for Picotte Elementary is a pinto (mustang), representing the horse Dr. Picotte rode to meet her patients before she built the hospital.
The school was named after Dr. Picotte as a symbol of respect for all cultures, since the city was named after her tribe. It is important that OPS chose to name a school after Dr. Picotte because even though Native Americans were the first people in Omaha, there are not many places named in their honor. The school hopes to promote and preserve her legacy to last a lifetime. It inspires students to follow their dreams to become what they want for their life while teaching the next generation about her loyalty and passion for her community. In Picotte Elementary, there is a mural timeline to illustrate the history of how the school became a reality from the beginning of the Omaha Tribe to the school today. The mural reminds students every day that no matter what challenges they may face, with hard work and determination they can accomplish their dreams.
Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte and her hospital in Walthill, NE (Image Courtesy of Susan LaFlesche Picotte Center)
Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte
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