Back to top

Clara Barton Club

Cottonwood County Historical Society
  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
Clara Barton Club ice cream social

Ice cream social organized by the Clara Barton Club and held during Westbrook's Hospital Days. From the Sentinel Tribune (Westbrook), 1978.

Nurses organized the Clara Barton Club at Westbrook’s Schmidt Memorial Hospital in 1948 with three goals: to study the health needs of their community, to keep themselves updated about new drugs and evolving nursing methods, and to support their hospital.

Westbrook nurses set their standards high when they named their club after Clara Barton, the nurse whose fame was established during the American Civil War. Later in life, during the 1890s, she traveled to Cuba to nurse and distribute supplies to American soldiers wounded in the Spanish-American War. One of her most lasting achievements was the establishment of the Red Cross on May 21, 1881.

Westbrook-area nurses in Minnesota, anticipating the construction of a hospital, met on July 9, 1948, and formed the Clara Barton Club. In October of the next year, a three-member committee met to organize a Westbrook Hospital auxiliary. On November 29, community women wanting to support their soon-to-be hospital met and organized.

The stage was set, and the nurses’ group was ready to act on its goals. Topics of their monthly meetings have kept up with evolving medical and health issues over the years. They have included hospital supervision, doctor shortages, agriculture and health, and, more recently, car seats for young children, adult daycare, and Medicare.

The group kept up with evolving medical issues and “covered topics from A to Z,” according to a long-time Clara Barton Club member. Special speakers addressed concerns like tuberculosis, Mad Cow disease, and HIV/AIDS. Some presenters explored issues using video tapes or demonstrations. Members also read written articles and led discussions on their topics when they met.

Medical healthcare in Cottonwood County—and across Minnesota—has changed drastically since the Clara Barton Club organized. In the early 1940s, before the club formed, it was typical for Westbrook nurses to earn only $5 a day while working twenty-four-hour private care shifts that allowed only four hours for sleeping. Earning $40 a month was considered a good wage by local nurses, even though there were no benefits or paid vacations.

The only living member of the original club (as of 2018) recalls using sulfa drugs when she began her work. During World War II, hospitals sometimes needed to borrow penicillin from other facilities. It was necessary to reserve most drugs for the military. The member also recalled the job of sharpening needles on a whetstone before sterilizing them. Needles were then ready for giving patients their needed injections.

Fundraising events for hospital supplies and equipment often centered around food. Bake sales, lunch counters at farm auctions, pie socials, and food stands at the annual Hospital Days celebration all brought in money for the hospital. Preparing food for events involved extra work on the nurses’ off hours, but they volunteered to do the baking.

A personal concern for nurses working at the new hospital was the condition of their lunchroom. The club not only contacted individuals from the community to do the work but also paid for supplies. For example, the $59 cost of plastering four walls came from the Clara Barton Club treasury.

Club members didn’t limit their financial support to local needs. They donated money to health organizations like the Sister Kenny Institute, CARE packages to Korea, Ronald McDonald House, Gillette Hospital, and to Minnesota state hospitals in St. Peter, Willmar, and Hastings.

Club activities encouraged members to relax and enjoy getting to know each other; their relatives joined them at annual summer picnics. Outings for members provided health-related tours and trips to tourist sites like the Jeffers Petroglyphs and the End-O-Line Railroad Park & Museum in nearby Currie.

The group’s focus changed in 1995 when Schmidt Memorial Hospital affiliated with the Sioux Valley Hospital system in Sioux Falls. Then, in 2007, the hospital’s name changed to Sanford Westbrook Medical Center. After it was renamed, the hospital continued to depend on local nurses but received funds from the Sanford Health system.

  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Rickers, Beth. “Barton’s Brigade.” Worthington Daily Globe, February 24, 2007.

Westbrook Clara Barton Club records
Description: Records documenting the founding and evolution of the Clara Barton Club and its support of Schmidt Memorial Hospital in Westbrook.

Related Images

Clara Barton Club ice cream social
Clara Barton Club ice cream social
Apron sale organized by the Clara Barton Club
Apron sale organized by the Clara Barton Club
Hospital Days activities schedule
Hospital Days activities schedule

Turning Point

In 1997, two years after partnering with the Sioux Valley Hospital system, Schmidt Memorial Hospital becomes Sanford Westbrook Medical Center.



Westbrook nurses meet to establish a club on July 9. They call their new organization the Clara Barton Club.


A committee of three club members meets to form an auxiliary for the future Dr. Henry Schmidt Memorial Hospital.


Westbrook’s hospital opens on January 23.


The hospital affiliates with the Sioux Valley Hospital system.


The hospital’s new name, Sanford Westbrook Medical Center, reflects the changing direction of its services.