Lillie Rosa Minoka Hill

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Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill (1876–1952) was a Native American physician of Mohawk descent. After her mother died when she was still a child, she was adopted by Joshua Allen, a Quaker in Philadelphia, who guaranteed her full education. With his support, she graduated from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, becoming the second Native American female doctor in the United States, after Susan La Flesche Picotte (Omaha).

She married an Oneida man in 1905, returning with him to his reservation in Wisconsin. For decades she operated a "kitchen clinic" at her house, providing care for Oneida on the reservation. She gained her state medical license in Wisconsin in 1934 and, in her later years, was honored for her contributions to rural medical care. In 1946, a heart attack prevented her from making house calls, however the kitchen-clinic remained open.[1] In 1947 she was adopted by the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, the only person so honored in the 20th century. They gave her the name Yo-da-gent, meaning “she who saves” or “she who carries help”.

Early life[edit]

Lillie Minoka was born 30 August 1875 into the Mohawk Nation on the St. Regis Mohawk Indian Reservation (also known as Akwesasne) in northern New York. Her mother died soon after giving birth, and Lillie was raised by her mother's Mohawk family.

When the girl was about five, her family allowed her to be adopted by Joshua Allen and his wife. He was a Quaker doctor in Philadelphia, and they promised to educate the girl. He named her Rosa because to him, "she looked more like a little rose than a lily.”[citation needed] She attended the Grahame Institute, a Quaker school for girls in Philadelphia that was owned and operated by Allen's sister.

In 1895 Minoka graduated. She went for further study to a Catholic convent in Quebec, Canada, where she learned French. She 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. [2] Minoka attended the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania (now part of Drexel University), where she earned her degree in 1899.[3] She was the second Native American woman in the United States to obtain a medical degree, after Susan La Flesche Picotte (Omaha).

Early career[edit]

In 1900, while working at the Lincoln Institute in Philadelphia (a charity school for Indian girls that had originally been established for orphaned children of soldiers in 1866 in her home on Chestnut Street by Miss Mary McHenry; not to be confused with the historically black Lincoln University in Chester County), Minoka met Anna Hill, an Oneida student from Wisconsin. Anna introduced Minoka to her brother Charles Abram Hill. They married in 1905.

For five years after her graduation, Minoka continued her work at the Lincoln Institute. She also cared for women and children as an intern at the Women’s Hospital in Philadelphia. After her internship, she set up a private practice with a friend, Francis Tyson, at the Lincoln Institute.

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1905 Charles Hill proposed to her, asking her to join him in Oneida, Wisconsin on his tribal reservation. She knew that life would be difficult in the rural area, but she agreed. After she moved there, she became a farmer’s wife. They had six children together.

In 1916, Charles died of a sudden attack of appendicitis; their twins were only five months old. The farm and livestock were mortgaged, and Minoka-Hill had to manage the debt. In 1918 their children contracted influenza during the international epidemic, but all survived. In 1922 their daughter Rosa Melissa Hill died from typhoid fever.

Medical practice[edit]

On the reservation, Minoka-Hill ran a “kitchen clinic” for 40 years from her house. She incorporated herbal remedies learned from Oneida medicine men and women. She made many house calls, teaching the people about nutrition, sanitation, and preventative medicine. Because cash was scarce in the rural economy, she accepted food, such as chickens, as payment for her services. She adjusted her fees according to what the patient could pay: she sometimes charged $15 for the delivery of a baby, or two chickens, or $9, depending on the family's situation.

Popular among white and Native American patients alike, Minoka-Hill earned the trust of local Native Americans who did not feel comfortable with the white doctors of Brown County. The local physicians were supportive of her work.

During World War I, in 1916 the only official federal doctor on the Oneida reservation was called away to serve the military. After that, Minoka-Hill's services were even more critical; she tended to nearly all the tribe's local medical needs. She often spent entire nights at bedsides. She carried her heavy medical bag and walked to most of her patients over miles of dirt and gravel roads; in winter she used snowshoes. [4]

In 1929, her trust fund, established by her father Joshua Allen, collapsed in the Stock Market Crash that began the Great Depression. Minoka-Hill kept running her “kitchen clinic” through all of it, and continued for the rest of her life.

In 1934, local physicians loaned her the $100 needed to pay for the application fee to gain her medical license. Being licensed allowed her to admit patients to the hospital. After taking the necessary tests, she received the credential.

In 1939, under programs of the New Deal of the President Franklin D. Roosevelt administration to improve conditions for Native Americans, a public health nurse and a government doctor were assigned to the reservation. That year, the federal government also started providing food supplements to combat malnutrition.

A heart attack in 1946 forced Minoka-Hill into semi-retirement, though she continued her “kitchen clinic”. She also set up a boarding school to help poor Native American children. In 1934 she obtained a license from the state to become a fully recognized medical practitioner, in order to admit patients to the local hospital. Her application fee was paid by local doctors, who strongly supported her work. She continued her services until her death.

In her later years, one of her sons gave her an electric refrigerator, her first. Not having had electricity for most of her life, Minoka-Hill said it was “a gift straight from heaven”.[citation needed]

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • 1947, she received the Indian Achievement Award from the Indian Fire Council of Chicago, for personal achievement and humanitarian service to her people.
  • 1947, Thanksgiving Day, she was adopted by the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin; the only person in the 20th century to be officially adopted by them. They gave her the name Yo-da-gent, meaning “she who saves” or “she who carries help”. At the tribal adoption ceremony, Minoka-Hill said:
    “It was 42 years last June since I came here to live. I was the bride of one of your tribe. I found I was to have good friends and kind neighbors. It has been a privilege to be helpful to those in need of help and to do it cheerfully and as promptly as I could. Because I felt it was the Master’s work assigned to me I must therefore be a willing worker ---though sometimes a very weary worker. Today you have honored me in a special way by taking me for your ‘almost sister’, now I can say to many of you ‘daughter’, ‘son’, ‘grandchild’. And you can say to me Hocsote. Let me express my hearty thanks for your recognition and adoption."

[citation needed]

  • 1948, a monument was erected in Oneida, Wisconsin in her honor.
  • 1948, the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture recognized her for service to rural people.
  • 1949, she was the honoree of the American Medical Association at its annual conference, held that year in Atlantic City.
  • 1949, the Wisconsin Medical Association voted to award her a lifetime honorary membership. When she received the announcement letter, she said, “As much as I appreciate kind thoughts, I do not relish too much publicity!”[citation needed]
  • 1952, a granite monument was erected near Oneida in her honor. 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.”[citation needed]
  • 1959, Haskell Indian College named a new girl’s dormitory as “Minoka Hall” in her honor.
  • 1975, her son Norbert Hill established the Dr. Rosa Minoka Hill Fund, which grants college scholarships to Native Americans.

A granddaughter, now known as Roberta Hill Whiteman, became a poet and professor.


  1. ^ "Little Rosa Minoka Hill". Changing the Face of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 27 September 2017. 
  2. ^ Dr. Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill. Changing the Face of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  3. ^ "Drexel University College of Medicine". Our Diverse History. 
  4. ^ Lillie Rosa Minoka Hill. World Heritage Encyclopedia. People from Franklin County, New York, Oneida people, Drexel University alumni, List of Drexel University alumni, Iroquois.

Scharf, John Thomas, History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, Thompson Westcott - Philadelphia (Pa.) - 1884, page 1698.

Further reading[edit]

  • Greta Anderson, More Than Petticoats, Remarkable Wisconsin Women, TwoDot, 2004
  • Roberta Jean Hill, Dr. Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill: Mohawk Woman Physician, University of Minnesota, 1998

External links[edit]