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Susan LaFlesche Picotte Center
Currently known as the Susan LaFlesche Picotte Center, this building once housed the Dr. Susan Picotte Memorial Hospital. This small hospital, situated on the Omaha Indian Reservation in northeastern Nebraska, was the dream of Susan LaFlesche Picotte, who was a pioneer in providing health care for Native Americans.
Born on the Omaha reservation, Picotte was the daughter of Joseph LaFlesche, chief of the Omaha tribe. He encouraged members of his tribe to seek education and build relationships with reform groups. Picotte followed her father’s advice and, after attending school on the reservation, she completed undergraduate work at the Hampton Institute in Virginia. She then entered the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, becoming the first Native American woman to attend medical school in the United States. She graduated in 1889 at the top of her class as the country’s first Native American female physician. Picotte returned to northeastern Nebraska to provide health care to both Indian and white patients. In addition to her medical practice, Picotte served her tribe in many ways, as teacher, social worker, interpreter for church services, missionary, temperance activist, and advocate for Omaha Indian rights. In 1912, with a goal of building an institution to serve the medical needs of her people, she founded a hospital on the Omaha reservation in Walthill. This was the first hospital on any reservation funded privately rather than with government money.
The hospital’s architect was William L. Steele of Sioux City, Iowa, a Prairie School designer who had worked in the office of Louis Sullivan. His Craftsman-style building emphasized simplicity and rejected historical influences. The most prominent feature of the rectangular, one-and-a-half-story, frame building is a front porch that extends the entire length of the east facade. Nine round-arched bays, each screened in, front the porch. A transverse dormer penetrates the low-pitched gable roof. Roof details include wide overhangs and exposed roof rafters and brackets. The first floor of the building included general and private wards, operating and maternity rooms, a kitchen, and offices. The second semi-story accommodated staff quarters with supporting functions housed in the basement.
Following Picotte’s premature death in 1915, the hospital was named in her honor. The hospital continued to operate until the 1940s and upon closing it served a variety of functions. Since 1993 it has been owned and maintained as a museum by the Susan LaFlesche Picotte Center.
Edwards, Rae, Greg Miller, and Joni Gilkerson, “Dr. Susan Picotte Memorial Hospital,” Thurston County, Nebraska. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1988. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
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