Susan La Flesche Picotte: A Pioneer in Medicine

By: Kailen Skewis

Doctor Susan La Flesche Picotte
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Early on in her career as a doctor, Susan La Flesche Picotte could deliver babies, suture wounds and cure tuberculosis, but as a woman she could not vote or hold office, and as an Native American she couldn’t even be recognized as an American Citizen.

La Flesche, born in June of 1865, was the first woman of Native American decent to become a doctor in the United States. She was born and raised in northeastern Nebraska on the Omaha Indian Reservation with her three sisters Susette, Rosalie, and Marguerite. Their parents both identified as Omaha and spoke multiple languages including French, English, and Omaha which they passed onto their children. Joseph La Flesche, their father, was a principal leader of the Omaha tribe in 1855. He was also known as Iron Eye and was the last recognized chief of the Omaha. Their mother, Mary Gale, refused to speak any other language than Omaha despite understanding English and French.

La Flesche graduated second in her class from the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia, which is now Hampton University, and afterwards went on to attend the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP). WMCP was one of only a few medical schools that accepted women at the time.

La Flesche is considered one of the first people in American history to receive aid for professional education. During medical school, she wrote a letter to the Connecticut Indian Association explaining her goal of going home to teach adults and children how to properly take care of themselves. The association, which had roots in women’s domesticity, thought her plan coincided with their virtues and pledged to sponsor Susan’s medical school expenses, as well as her housing and books on the condition that she would remain single for a number of years in order to focus on her studies and, later, her practice. Susan stayed single until 1894 when she met, got engaged to, and then married Henry Picotte.

After three years at WMPC, Susan graduated at the top of her class and went back home to Nebraska to work as a physician for the Omaha agency. Her career began with teaching students about good hygiene in order to stay healthy, but quickly developed into caring for hundreds of white and Native American patients as the only physician on the Omaha Indian Reservation which stretched almost 1,350 square miles. Susan worked tirelessly as a physician. She made many house calls daily, sometimes traveling miles in all kinds of weather to see a patient. Eventually, she opened a private practice in Nebraska where she was more easily able to treat patients in a safe and neutral space.

La Flesche was more than just a physician during her life. She did as much as she could to better the lives of those around her. She sought after better healthcare for everyone, advocating for modern hygiene and disease prevention standards. She was also a major advocate for temperance on the reservation. Alcoholism on the Omaha Indian Reservation was an intense issue while Susan was alive. While making land deals, some white people would use alcohol to manipulate Omaha people. Susan knew of the harm these practices caused and sought to control the damage by campaigning for a prohibition law in the county. She also lobbied the Meiklejohn Bill. The bill prohibited the sale of intoxicating liquors to any recipient of allotted land. It did eventually become law in early 1897 but ended up being nearly impossible to enforce. Her devotion to advocating for temperance was largely fueled by her husband, Henry, who was an alcoholic and died in 1905 from tuberculosis apparently amplified by his alcoholism.

After her husband’s death, Susan and their children moved to Walthill, Nebraska where they built a house and a hospital. Ever since medical school, she had campaigned for the building of a hospital on the reservation. In 1913, just two years before her death, the hospital was finished and later named after her. This was the first hospital on the Omaha Indian Reservation that was privately funded. The hospital has served as a few different spaces. It survived as a hospital up until 1940 when it was turned into an elderly care center. Now it has become a memorial hospital, named the Susan La Flesche Picotte Center. It displays photos and artifacts from Susan’s life and commemorates her medical work, and shows some of the history of the Omaha and Winnebago tribes.

Dr. La Flesche-Picotte was regarded very highly in her community at the time of her death. She had achieved goals that many people had thought impossible. She fought against stereotypes that effected both Native Americans and women, and ultimately won when she proved to be a very successful physician. Susan changed the face of medicine during her life even though her story is relatively unknown.

Fantasy Literature for Women: Sarah J. Maas

A blonde haired woman stares into the camera. It is a head shot for an author's biography.
Image of Maas from her short bio in Crescent City.

By Amy Alfredson

It is easy as an English major to spout out lists of books and names of authors that I love and wish everyone could encounter at some point. Yet, despite the lists, I do have a favorite author, one who happens to be brilliant and an inspiration to women through her fiction. As we have discussed a lot about literature in recent articles, I would like to bring attention to a wonderful fiction writer by the name of Sarah J Maas. As she is my favorite author, I follow her work closely and her new book, Crescent City, is an incredible addition to her works and her cast of strong female characters.

Maas’s prior work consists primarily of two best-selling series titled Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses (the latter being my favorite book and series). All three collections mentioned exist within fantasy worlds involving magic, Fae, and various other creatures and beings. I find we often discount works of fiction that are too different from our own world, thinking they cannot do great work as pieces of literature because they do not present reality. To that I say, who needs reality to provide strong representation? Maas creates worlds and characters that challenge our expectations of fiction and their presentation of female leads.

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Mary Wollstonecraft: An Early Feminist

By Samantha Baugh

Mary Wollstonecraft was perhaps Britain’s first feminist. Her book A Vindication of the Rights of Women is one of the most widely read books of feminism in literary academia. Written as a demand for equal rights, written with stern and bold eloquence, her message to both men and women was an appeal for equality. Wollstonecraft was born during an eighteenth century intellectual revolution called the Enlightenment, which valued reason and truth. This thought probably inspired the style of her writing. 

Wollstonecraft had a troubled beginning. Her father spent the family’s fortune on business ventures that ultimately failed. He did not have a career capable of earning any wealth but had inherited the money. So when he lost it there was no getting it back. He struggled with his lack of success and was incredibly abusive towards Mary and his wife. Mary often protected her mother from his abuse, but she did not have a strong relationship with her sisters. The family moved about seven times over the span of a decade. She sent out from home early and eventually opened a school with one of her sisters and her friend Fanny. They kept the school operating for a few years, but Wollstonecraft left after her friend Fanny died in childbirth.

An old painting of two people with their upper bodies, neither are looking at the artist, black background. A woman on the right dressed in a white dress and black hat. A man on the left with a dark jacket.
William Godwin (portrait by James Northcote) and Mary Wollstonecraft (portrait by John Opie) from BrainPickings.org

After this Wollstonecraft worked as a governess, which she didn’t like. She worked for Irish aristocrats and grew impatient with the fragility and uselessness of her Lady. Having argued and struggled with her employers for a year, Mary was eventually fired. She moved to London and started working for a publisher of radical texts, contributing as a guest writer to the Analytical Review

Competition thrived during her time here. Mary responded to a politician, named Edmund Burke, who wrote about his disapproval of the social upheaval Mary had dedicated her life and career to. Wollstonecraft named her response A Vindication of the Rights of Men. The Analytical Review also published her first book Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, and four years later A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792. Mary thrived under the employment of her publisher Joseph Johnson and she was surrounded by other radical authors. Here, she met William Godwin, who became her husband and the father of their daughter, Mary Shelley. 

Before them though, Wollstonecraft spent some time in France during their revolution. Supporting the radical ideas at first, Wollstonecraft was horrified when more and more people were executed. She did not support the actions of the corrupt revolutionaries. During this time, Wollstonecraft became pregnant out of wedlock in 1974 and named the girl Fanny. Wollstonecraft did not stay with the father for long. In 1975, Mary jumped off of Putney Bridge after learning about her lover’s many betrayals, but was saved. This experience inspired her to write more. 

Mary returned to London after this heartbreak and began a relationship with her old friend, William Godwin. Despite neither of them believing in marriage, they did marry after Mary became pregnant. Tragically, she dies eight days after giving birth to her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft-Shelley. She would go on to follow in her mother’s feminist footsteps and inspire science-fiction as a genre with her text Frankenstein

A black and white picture of an old cover page of "A Vindication of the Rights of Women"
“Title page of the 1792 American edition of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. The facing page contains an inscription by woman suffragist Susan B. Anthony.
Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA” from Brittanica.com

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is a bold advocation for the emancipation of her gender through education. She uses bold and masculine language to argue that women should be active in society and not coddled into domestication. She blames society for breeding women to be fragile and codependent, holding men responsible for binding women to household chores. Wollstonecraft also uses rational and practical reasoning for the sake of her audience, speaking of the benefits of educating women. Mary argues that women’s independence, supported through the expansion of their education beyond the domestic, will combat women’s frustrations that result from their confinement. She also encourages her audience to consider how women might contribute to society if they were educated. The effect is absolute, and her words resonate through history. An article from Libertarianism puts it artfully: 

During Wollstonecraft’s life, women’s education was starkly different from men’s. Women were taught skills such as sewing, singing, and being charming in conversation. This frustrated Wollstonecraft to no end. She believed “the most perfect education…is such an exercise of the understanding as is best calculated to strengthen the body and form the heart….” Since the mind can be shaped by education, Wollstonecraft believed that women’s oppression was not natural but rather completely arbitrary; women had not been given a chance to pursue the same goals as men. 

Mary Wollstonecraft is an icon of first wave feminism. She believed that women should be independent from men and emphasised women’s education. Wollstonecraft was wildly frustrated with the gender norms of her age. She did not believe women should be kept at home, fussing over trivial matters such as fashion, charm, and policy. She was inspired by the Enlightenment to seek truth and knowledge, to think freely and strongly. Mary believed in resilience of the mind and being an autonomous being. Her ideas seem obvious to us now, but at the time she was primarily alone with her pursuit of equality. She was of the political belief that a government’s purpose was to provide equality to all groups of people, and to leave citizens alone after balance was accomplished. She lived simply, did not have a lot of money, but drew herself into society with nothing more than her own mind and determination. Truly, Mary Wollstonecraft is a treasure of our history. 

Remembering Katherine Johnson: A Mathematic Icon

By Kailen Skewis

“Katherine G. Johnson refused to be limited by society’s expectations of her gender and race while expanding the boundaries of humanity’s reach.” – Barack Obama, 2015

Katherine G. Johnson in 1983
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Creola Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, who went by Katherine Johnson, was a mathematician for NASA for thirty-five years. She was born the youngest of four children on Aug. 26, 1918, in West Virginia’s White Sulphur Springs to Joshua and Joylette Coleman, a farmer and a school teacher respectively.

When she was ten years old, Katherine began high school at Institute, West Virginia and graduated when she was fourteen. The year after, she entered West Virginia State College, a historically black institution. At WVSC she took all the math courses they had to offer by her junior year, so her mentor there, William Waldron Schieffelin Claytor, decided to create special classes just for her. Later, this proved to be problematic when Katherine was chosen by the president of West Virginia State to integrate into West Virginia University, an all-white institution in Morgantown, WV, in 1940. The problem “was finding a course that didn’t duplicate Dr. Claytor’s meticulous tutelage.”

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American Strength: Remembering Ida B. Wells


By Samantha Baugh

American history is undeniably guilty of shadowing people who left legacies far more important than those in the light. It is our duty to recognize those people when history does not. Not just what they did, but what they stood for and what they left behind. I’d like to take some time to recognize a prominent figure in our history who has been subjected to the crime of memory’s shadow. 

Ida B. Wells (1893) from blackpast.com

Ida B. Wells-Barnett lived from 1862-1931 and spent her life engaged in battle against discrimination and violence. She was born six months before slaves were freed during the Civil War in Holly Springs Mississippi. With their freedom, her parents became incredibly politically active during the Reconstruction Era. Her father was a founder of (what is now known as) Rust College. Because of this, she was taught from an early age the values of education. By the time she was sixteen years old, Ida had been expelled from Shaw University for starting an argument with the president. Right after this, she lost her parents and infant brother to yellow fever. This tragedy left her responsible for her six brothers and sisters; Ida’s life shifted dramatically. By convincing a local school that she was eighteen, Ida began her job as a teacher to support her family.

Continue reading “American Strength: Remembering Ida B. Wells”

Katie Sowers: Journey to the Super Bowl

By Kailen Skewis

If you somehow made it through Superbowl Sunday last week without hearing the name Katie Sowers… you might just not be that into football. However, even if you don’t like the sport, you should still get educated on Sowers and I am here to help you.

Katie Sowers was born and raised in the small town, Hesston, Kansas by her parents Bonnie and Floyd. Growing up, Katie and her sister, Liz, were as much into sports then as they are now. The girls recall football as being their favorite sport when they were younger, regardless of the fact that their father was a basketball coach at the time. The girls spent many of their Sundays playing tackle football in their yard with the neighborhood boys, and their parents supplemented their love of the sport by giving them football pads and helmets for Christmas one year.

However, as the girls grew older, they realized that they wouldn’t be able to join the high school football team like their male counterparts and turned to basketball and track to feed their hunger for competitive sports. Katie and Liz still found time to play football outside of their high school athletic commitments, but neither sister was able to join an actual football team until after college.

Graduated from high school, Katie Sowers enrolled at Hesston College where she spent some time until transferring to Goshen, a Christian liberal arts college in Indiana. She paused her journey toward getting a Master’s degree in kinesiology, and during this pause she played for two different women’s football teams: West Michigan Mayhem and Kansas City Titans, both of which played in the Women’s Football Alliance. After two major injuries Sowers mostly retired from her days of playing football herself and enrolled and later graduated from the University of Central Missouri with her Master’s degree.

Picture of Katie Sowers. A young, fit woman with short, light brown hair. She's wearing black shorts and a black shirt sporting the Atlanta Falcons' name and a red Falcons' visor.
Katie Sowers at the Atlanta Falcons Training Camp in July 2016
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Following her retirement from the Women’s Football Alliance, Katie worked a part-time job coaching a youth basketball team that happened to have former Chief’s general manager Scott Pioli as a parent of one of her players. This coincidence opened a door for Sowers who was introduced by Pioli to the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship which gave her the opportunity to work with the Atlanta Falcons and later, the San Francisco 49ers. Currently, Sowers is the offensive assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers, and, as of recently, the first woman and lesbian to coach at the National Football League Super Bowl. However, she is not the first woman to coach in the NFL. In fact, this season she stands with three other female coaches in the league: Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Callie Brownson for the Buffalo Bills. As of this year, there have been a total of seven women coaches in the NFL.

Last week, Katie Sowers joined the 49ers team in the 2020 Super Bowl, where she helped coach the offensive line and made headlines as the first LGBT woman to be coaching on the sidelines. During the game, Sunday, a minute-long commercial was aired by Microsoft featuring Katie and her accomplishments on and off the field. Her accomplishments are something to be celebrated, especially because many of them are firsts for the sport and the NFL. Sowers is paving the way to more diversity within the NFL and showing girls of all ages that there really isn’t a limit to the things women can accomplish. Football is notorious for being something of a “boys only” club, but Katie is proving that with dedication and never taking no for an answer- she is capable of anything.

From here, Sowers has said that one of her goals is to become the head coach of an NFL team one day. At just thirty three years old she is only a year older than the youngest-ever NFL coach Sean McVay. Unfortunately, it will be a challenge for her to reach her goal of head coach due to her gender, sexual orientation and age, regardless of the coaching skills she has. Despite how many times she proves that she is more than capable of coaching a football team just as well (if not better) than her male counterparts, there are always people who say that she will never be the right person for the job.

Luckily she has a lot of support too. Even before the Super Bowl was played last week, many articles had come out from various news sources, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Forbes, all of which detailed Katie’s journey to where she is now. Most of them were very supportive. All of the support that Sowers receives sends this positive message to girls that want to follow their dreams like she has: you can do it.

Hello: It’s Me

By Samantha Krier

Hi! My name is Samantha Krier, and I am very excited to start writing for the Women’s Center Blog here at the University of Idaho. I am a Finance major and I am in my last semester here. I am sad to leave but I’m excited to see where my next adventure is. I chose to study Finance because I wanted to learn about the economy and about how money moved through the system. Back home, I never really had access to that kind of information and it was never really a priority. I wanted to be able to learn about it and share this information with people who want to invest but don’t necessarily think they would be able to. Many people ask me why I chose to pair this major with my minor in Professional Writing. I have loved to write since I was young, and it has always been one of my strongest subjects in school. I have always wanted to be able to share my writing with others in a professional way, and I love that I have gotten this opportunity. Feminism has always been a huge passion of mine, and it will likely be my primary topic.

I started to look into feminism towards the end of high school. This is when I started to think about the experiences I’ve had as a woman and how they might be different than the experiences a man may have had. At that point, I was just starting to join the fight and have my own independent thoughts about it. As I have continued on with my education, and especially since coming to Moscow, I have expanded my understanding of feminism. I have since made an effort to be as inclusive as possible thanks to the amazing and diverse community within Moscow. I will always strive to expand my understanding of the world around me and the people who make it up.

Continue reading “Hello: It’s Me”