Starita writes book on first Native American doctor, available now

Starita writes book on first Native American doctor, available now

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 - 3:15pm
Cover of book showing a photo of Susan La Flesche
Professor Joe Starita wrote a book on Susan La Flesche, the first Native American doctor in the United States.

by Savanah Baker

Susan La Flesche became the first Native American doctor in the United States, but only after breaking down thick walls of ethnic, racial and gender prejudice. Professor Joe Starita wrote the book “A Warrior of the People,” to draw attention to La Flesche’s accomplishments and to bring light to the American West’s history through the eyes of a woman.

“Twenty-four years (after Susan was born), she overcame all kinds of overwhelming odds, overwhelming racial injustices, overwhelming gender bias…to get into the only medical college in the world in the 1880s that would accept women and train them as doctors,” Starita said.

La Flesche graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania as valedictorian on March 14, 1889, becoming the first Native American doctor in the history of the United States. This feat was remarkable as it came 31 years before women could vote and 35 years before her people, and other Native Americans, could become citizens in their own country.

“She was able to absorb the best of American culture, the best of American values, the best of American education without losing her Native soul,” Starita said.

This accomplishment was important to La Flesche because she went back to the Omaha reservation and spent the remainder of her life trying to save her people after graduation.

“She ended up literally working herself to death…on behalf of the people she wanted to give life to,” Starita said.

Starita’s book discusses many other aspects of La Flesche’s life, including what it was like growing up bi-racial. Both of La Flesche’s parents were half white, half Omaha Indian but chose to identify with their Native American heritage.

Another important aspect that the book offers is the ability to look at the American West through the eyes of a woman.

“One of the things I found endlessly captivating…is the American West,” Starita said. “All of us have been led up the steps to a window looking out on the American West, and that window has always been exclusively framed through the lens of men. But this book and this story allows us to walk up to that window, look out and see what the last quarter of the 19th century looked like in the American West refracted through the lens of an American Indian woman.”

Starita’s book is available on Amazon now and will be available in bookstores on Nov. 1. His other books, “The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge” and “I am a Man”, are also available on Amazon and tell stories of Native American culture, heroism and adaptation. “The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge” won the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association Award and received a second Pulitzer nomination.