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Dr. Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill





Year of Birth / Death

1876 - 1952


Medical School

Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania


Geography

LOCATION
Wisconsin


Career Path

General medicine
Public health
Dr. Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill



Inspiration

Lillie Minoka decided to become a nurse after graduating from high school. Her father, however, felt that a woman with such a strong education should become a physician.



Biography

Dr. Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill earned her doctor of medicine degree at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1899, making her the second American Indian woman in the United States to hold an M.D. degree (Susan La Flesche Picotte was the first). She used her professional status to help other American Indians, working at public clinics and dispensaries and at a school for American Indian children in Philadelphia. She also served as primary caregiver for an Oneida Indian community in Wisconsin.

Lillie Rosa Minoka was born in 1876 on the St. Regis (now Akwesasne) Reservation in northern New York. Her mother was Mohawk and her father was a Quaker physician from Philadelphia who had worked with Mohawks in New York for many years. After her mother died during childbirth, her father decided to allow her to grow up with her maternal relatives on the reservation until she was old enough to go to school. At age 5, she moved to Philadelphia where her father enrolled her in the Grahame Institute, a Quaker school for girls. As Dr. Minoka-Hill recalled later in life, she felt strange upon arriving for school, describing herself as a "little wooden Indian who hardly dared look right or left."

Lillie Minoka decided to become a nurse after graduating from high school. Her father, however, felt that a woman with such a strong education should become a physician. So after a year in a convent, when she was inspired to convert to Catholicism, she earned her M.D. at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1899. Dr. Minoka interned at the Woman's Clinic, a college adjunct service for the poor. She also set up a private practice with friend and fellow graduate, Frances Tyson, and worked at the Lincoln Institute, a boarding school for American Indian children, an event that would change her life. She met Charles Hill, an Oneida farmer from a reservation in Wisconsin. The couple married, and in 1905 they moved to the Oneida reservation, where she practiced against her husband's wishes, refusing to become "a farmer's wife."

The transition could not have been easy. Dr. Minoka-Hill had lived in Philadelphia all her life, but in Oneida, she had to learn everything—from how to light a wood stove to priming a pump—and was without basic conveniences like running water. She also had to abandon her practice of "white man's medicine." Shortly after settling in Oneida, Dr. Minoka-Hill discovered that medical care there, at best, was deficient. Many residents mistrusted the reservation's only physician because he was white and knew little about their traditions and beliefs. While learning the life of a farmer's wife and raising six children, Dr. Minoka-Hill was also learning how the local community felt about disease, death, and healing. This helped her earn their trust and she rapidly became their favorite doctor and friend.

In 1916, after her husband died from acute appendicitis, the family was left with only a mortgaged farm and a small trust fund from by her father. When the town's only licensed physician moved out in 1917, Dr. Minoka-Hill was left alone to treat the entire community from her "kitchen-clinic." Yet she managed to serve her community well. Without a Wisconsin medical license, she made arrangements with doctors from Green Bay to serve her patients, to make sure they got what they needed, though she could not admit them to hospitals, prescribe drugs, or charge fees. During this time she fought an influenza epidemic, waged the perpetual struggle to prevent illness and malnutrition, delivered babies, and gave talks on preventive medicine, good nutrition, and proper sanitation. Finally, when the Great Depression wiped out her trust fund, Dr. Minoka-Hill decided to take the state medical exam. Thirty-five years after graduating with her M.D., Minoka-Hill became a licensed physician, enabling her to reclaim some of the fees she charged from the government for her services to the poor.

For most of her life, Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill lived according to the teachings of two religious faiths. Inspired by the Quaker dictum she learned in childhood which simply instructed "do good," and by the spirit of service she observed while living for a year in a Catholic convent in Québec, Dr. Minoka-Hill spent her life tending to the needs of the poor and underserved.

Though a heart attack in 1946 prevented her from making house calls, Dr. Minoka-Hill kept her kitchen-clinic open, still accepting the occasional chicken as payment for services. "If I had charged too much" for medical services, "I wouldn't have a very good chance of going to heaven." Dr. Minoka-Hill was awarded many professional honors before she died, including awards from the Wisconsin State Medical Association, the Indian Council Fire, and the Oneida community itself, which adopted her by giving her the name "You-da-gent," or "she who serves." Dr. Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill died in 1952 in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The monument erected to her, with an inscription in Oneida, reads in part, "I was sick and you visited me."


National Library of Medicine