Susan La Flesche broke racial and gender barriers to become the first Native-American female doctor. La Flesche was born on an Indian Reservation in northeast Nebraska to mixed parents. Susan’s father, Chief Joseph La Flesche, never gave his children traditional names in order to give them an advantage during a time when Native Americans were often oppressed and stereotyped. He had his daughters learn English and attend formal education with white children.
Despite her intense exposure and indoctrination into the “white” culture prominent at the time, La Flesche stayed true to her roots and remained dedicated to her tribe. Even at a young age, La Flesche realized that she wanted to pursue a career in medicine in order to give medical attention to her tribe that was often neglected by other doctors.
After attending Hampton Institute in Elizabeth, New Jersey, La Flesche applied for the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. She made this bold move at a time when even white women were discouraged and often ridiculed from pursuing a higher education, especially in medicine. Even popular publications and esteemed professors were writing against the idea of women practicing science or medicine.
Even with all of these obstacles before her, La Flesche not only was accepted into the medical school, but she graduated at the top of her class at age 24. La Flesche returned to her reservation in Nebraska immediately following her graduation to begin providing medical care for the 1,244 members. La Flesche’s perseverance and determination helped to break social, gender and race barriers at a time when they were so engrained.
Categories: Native American Culture, Native-American Female Doctor