Minoka-Hill, Rosa (1876–1952)

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Minoka-Hill, Rosa (1876–1952)

Native American physician. Name variations: Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill; Lillie Rosa Minoka Hill; L. Rosa Minoka. Born Lillie Minoka on August 30, 1876, on the St. Regis Reservation in New York State; died of a heart attack on March 18, 1952, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; daughter of Joshua G. Allen (a Quaker physician) and a Mohawk mother who died shortly after her birth; Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, M.D., 1899; married Charles Abram Hill (a farmer), in 1905 (died 1916); children: Rosa Melissa Hill (b. 1906); Charles Allan Hill (b. 1906); Norbert Seabrook Hill (b. 1912); Alfred Grahame Hill (b. 1913); Jane Frances and Josephine Marie Hill (twins, b. 1915).

Graduated from medical school (1899); abandoned medical practice for marriage (1905); widowed (1916); licensed to practice medicine (1934); named Outstanding American Indian of the Year by the Indian Council Fire, Chicago (1947); given honorary lifetime membership by the State Medical Society of Wisconsin (1949).

Rosa Minoka-Hill was born Lillie Rosa Minoka on the St. Regis Reservation in northern New York State in 1876, to a Mohawk mother and a Quaker physician father from Philadelphia. Mohawk family tradition relates that Minoka's mother died shortly after childbirth. Her father decided to keep Minoka with her mother's family until she was five, when he felt she would be old enough to come to Philadelphia to attend the Grahame Institute, a Quaker boarding school. She later recalled memories of arriving in Philadelphia, "looking and feeling strange … [a] little wooden Indian who hardly dared look right or left." Her father renamed her Rosa, thinking her "too dark to be a lily," but he taught her about her Native American heritage.

Graduating from high school in 1895 and wanting to live the Quaker way of "doing good," Minoka-Hill planned to become a nurse, but her family persuaded her that medical school was a better choice for a woman of her education. She first spent a year in Quebec, Canada, studying French at a convent. There, impressed by the sisters' work, she eventually made the decision to convert to Catholicism. Her father accepted her conversion, and when she returned to Philadelphia he financed her studies at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania. After graduating in 1899, Minoka-Hill interned at the Woman's Hospital in Philadelphia, then treated impoverished immigrant women at the Women's Clinic. She later established a private practice with Frances Tyson , a fellow Woman's Medical College graduate.

While working at a government boarding school for Native Americans, she met Oneida student Anna Hill , who introduced Minoka-Hill to her future husband, Anna's brother Charles Abram Hill. A farmer, Hill wanted a farmer's wife, and when they married in 1905 and settled on his farm in Oneida, Wisconsin, Minoka-Hill agreed to abandon her medical practice. Rural life was rough and simple compared to the city life she was used to, and, after she adjusted to the change, her medical background eventually drew her back into practice. She added to her academic knowledge the herbal remedies of Oneida medicine men and women from the reservation. Soon her services were sought by neighbors who did not trust their community physician. Although she did not hold a Wisconsin medical license, local Brown County doctors who knew her encouraged her to treat those who came to her, and her husband ultimately accepted his wife's talents with pride.

Over the next nine years, Minoka-Hill had six children, and when her husband died in 1916 they were not left with much. Friends in Philadelphia encouraged her to return East, but she refused, later noting, "In Wisconsin I found my work." When Oneida's sole doctor left in 1917, Minoka-Hill became the community's only trained physician. From her "kitchen-clinic" she diligently attended to her neighbors, even when her own children became ill during the 1918–19 influenza pandemic. Busy and dedicated, she would often enlist a neighbor to baby-sit or take her youngest children with her on house calls, but primarily she schooled her children in independence and taught them to take care of each other. She accepted patients from seven in the morning until ten at night, treating them with medicines and herbals supplied by doctors in nearby Green Bay and by her old college friend and former partner Frances Tyson. She accepted food or farm labor in exchange for her services, and trekked long distances to make house calls.

The Great Depression took a large financial toll on the widowed and unlicensed Minoka-Hill and her family. Green Bay physicians encouraged her to take the two-day Wisconsin medical exam, so that she could admit patients to the hospital and be reimbursed by the Federal Relief Office; they also loaned her the $100 application fee. In 1934, 35 years after she had graduated from medical school, Minoka-Hill again received a license to practice medicine. She continued her practice in Oneida for the rest of life. Throughout, she varied her fees according to a patient's ability to pay, remarking, "If I charged too much, I wouldn't have a very good chance of going to heaven." She also taught nutrition, hygiene, and preventative medicine to her patients. In 1946, a heart attack forced her to quit making house calls, but she continued to see neighbors in her kitchen-clinic.

Among other honors, Minoka-Hill was adopted by the Oneida tribe and given the name "You-da-gent" ("she who serves"), was named Outstanding American Indian of the Year by the Indian Council Fire in Chicago in 1947, and was given an honorary lifetime membership by the State Medical Society of Wisconsin in 1949. The Society also funded her trip to the American Medical Association national convention, and to her 50th college reunion. After her death in 1952, a memorial to Minoka-Hill was erected outside of Oneida, Wisconsin, inscribed: "Physician, good Samaritan, and friend to all religions in this community. … 'I was sick and you visited me.'"


Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.


A clippings file is held by the Archives Division, State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

Jacquie Maurice , Calgary, Alberta, Canada