Gazette Article by: Bean Carroll
Appeared in the Gazette: Summer 2003
Of the many women who helped settle Winnetka, Dr. Alice Barlow-Brown exerted influence on many of our current institutions. Born in 1869, Dr. Barlow-Brown was a woman ahead of her time. Known primarily for founding the Winnetka Woman’s Club (WWC) in 1908, she was also the first female doctor in town. The site of the first formal meeting of the Winnetka Woman’s Club on January 23, 1908, was in her home at the corner of Ridge Avenue and Oak Street. Just east of the public library, this property today belongs to the Park District. Shortly, after founding the WWC, Dr. Barlow-Brown was elected President of the 10th district Federation of Woman’s Clubs which included 18 clubs and 2,500 women from Ravenswood to Waukegan.
The initial membership of the Winnetka Woman’s Club was 13, which consisted of 7 founders. With dues of $1.00 annually, the club helped establish a trash removal service and regular postal service for the Village. Dr. Barlow-Brown received a letter from the U.S. Postmaster dated March 14, 1911, about establishing this service. Another of the issues discussed and followed in the first year of the club’s existence was women’s suffrage.
Though active in the community, Dr. Brown continued to pursue her medical career. With the entry of the United States into World War I in April 1917, many female American doctors volunteered to join the military medical corps. But the military refused their help stating that women were legally excluded from the Army Medical Reserve Corp. As a result, the American Women’s Hospitals Service was established. Dr. Barlow-Brown became affiliated with it and traveled to France in 1917, working there with the support of the American Red Cross and her hometown of Winnetka. Dr. Barlow-Brown’s letters to friends were published in the Winnetka Talk. The letters discussed her care of the women and children in France and captured some of the images of war. One dated October 10, 1917, discusses her anticipation to start the dispensing of medicines and aid. Barlow-Brown had written her friends in Winnetka asking for financial aid to supply women and children with proper medical care.
With funds raised in Winnetka through the Dr. Alice Barlow-Brown Gift Shop, she was able to purchase a Ford Camionette for 6,250 francs for use as an ambulance. The vehicle was fitted with a collapsible cot, a mattress, and an emergency kit. Barlow-Brown had established the first dispensary circuit. She was known to rise early in the morning and drive her Camionette to the bombed-out villages providing medical care. In December 1919, nurses and aides from the Chicago district sailed from New York to Europe to serve in Serbia. Dr. Barlow-Brown met them and continued her mission of caring for the war refugees in her Camionette.
What Barlow-Brown did following her work in Serbia is unclear; however, she reappeared in China in 1923, volunteering for mission work which she continued for 20 years. She was first sent to Peking to study the Chinese language. While there, she was asked to be a physician at the Yenching Women’s College where she served until 1929. After a two-year furlough, she returned in 1931 to volunteer for the Yenching Craft Workers, an organization that served the poor in the villages surrounding the Yenching University. In 1934, Barlow-Brown established a maternity center. This center continued under Chinese missionaries, many of whom she trained. She remained in China and worked under the Japanese from 1937 until the outbreak of World War II. She was interned and returned to America upon her release.
Dr. Barlow-Brown returned to Winnetka to speak at the Winnetka Woman’s Club about her experience in China. She was well received by friends who were eager to see her after her travels. Dr. Alice Barlow-Brown began her good works in Winnetka and shared them around the world. She truly belongs in the hometown Hall of Fame!