Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill became the second female Native American doctor in the United States, interning at Women’s Hospital in Philadelphia in 1902. Born a Mohawk Indian in 1876, she married Charles Hill, an Oneida Indian, and moved with him back to Oneida, Wisconsin, where he had built a house on a farm. Dr. Hill practiced medicine but didn’t have a Wisconsin license, so she did so informally in her kitchen.
She practiced in an “inconspicuous way” – she gave without demanding payment. The doctor on the Oneida reservation left to serve in World War 1, and now more and more people came to her. Influenza was rampant and she and her six children were sick, too. Charles contracted appendicitis in 1916 and died on Easter, leaving Rosa to raise their small children, run the farm, and doctor all those who came to her.
Native people were denied in this era access to hospitals and health education – child mortality was three times the national average. Dr. Hill learned herbal remedies from Oneida medicine men and women and incorporated those skills into her kitchen clinic for 40 years. She made house calls, taught preventative medicine, and accepted food as payment for her services, adjusting her fees according to what the patient could pay.
She obtained her Wisconsin license during the Depression, got an office in town, and served all people.
Though she had a heart attack in 1946 that left her blind in one eye, she continued practicing from her home. In 1949, she received the “Doctor of the Year” award from the American Medical Association That same year she was named “Indian of the Year” in Chicago. Perhaps most importantly to her that year, she was adopted as a tribal member of the Oneida and given a new name – Youdagent, “she who carries aid.”
Dr. Hill died in 1952, and two years later, the church community erected a granite monument in the center of Oneida in memory of Rosa. The inscription reads: “Physician, Good Samaritan, and friend of People of all religions in this community, erected to her memory by the Indians and white people.” It includes: “I was sick and you visited me.”
In 2014, the Dr. Rosa Minoka-Hill School opened to serve students with a continuum of unique learning needs, partnering with Bellin Health to educate the whole child, with a focus on wellness educational opportunities for students, families and community.
Mary recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to provide funding for her Ancestral Women: Elders from Wisconsin’s 12 Tribes exhibit.
A little bit about the exhibit: The Ancestral Women project was conceived to portray the strength of ancestral women around the world, both elders and their contemporaries, and to honor their journeys. The first phase of this larger project features women elders from each of Wisconsin’s 12 Native American tribes, 11 of which are federally recognized, and one, the Brothertown Nation, which is seeking federal status. Mary is also weaving six clan pieces for the exhibit (bear, loon, eagle, marten, crane, turtle) and four landscape pieces that illustrate essential cultural practices (maple sugaring, harvesting wild rice, building a birch bark canoe, and a piece showing a rising sun over a lake that symbolizes a new day).
If you have an interest in this project, please take a look at the Kickstarter link. If you would like to give Mary a hand, we would be honored and very grateful. Or if you think the project has merit, but you don’t wish to contribute, we ask that you please share it via whatever social media you use – that could help a lot.
The experience of creating this exhibit has been amazing for us so far. We’ve met some extraordinary people who have welcomed us with great kindness and shared remarkable stories of their families. We’re been truly honored that they would offer us their trust.
The exhibit opens to the public in Wausau at the Center for Visual Arts on 9/23, and the reception is on 9/30. It should be a remarkable evening – please put it on your calendar!