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The History of Marshfield Clinic Health System - Six Founding Physicians

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​In 1916, six physicians - K.W. Doege, M.D.; William Hipke, M.D.; Victor Mason, M.D.; Walter G. Sexton, M.D.; H.H. Milbee, M.D. and Roy P. Potter, M.D. - practiced in Marshfield and joined together in group practice, naming the practice after the community.

Patient care, research and education were important to them and this common focus has stood the test of time. For example, these physicians hosted scientific meetings for many doctors in Wisconsin and beyond. This educational tradition and desire for cutting-edge knowledge has shaped the Clinic's character for decades.

By 1924, Marshfield Clinic Health System was a formal part of the University of Wisconsin's first medical preceptor program, one of the first partnerships the Clinic would forge.  ​

The war years (World War I and World War II)​

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Between World War I and II, Marshfield Clinic added physicians, medical skills and support staff; policies and practices adapted to a changing environment; and an education sabbatical program was adopted.

Clinic doctors left their practices to serve in World War II. For example, Pediatrician James Vedder, Jr., was awarded the Silver Star for bravery and published a book about his Iwo Jima experiences.

The wartime economy caused the corporation to nearly dissolve in 1944. Medical care was still given without regard to ability to pay, though supplies were scarce.

After World War II, Obstetrician Russell Lewis, M.D., and Thoracic Surgeon Ben Lawton, M.D., joined the Clinic. Both had major influences on the Clinic's course, became Clinic presidents and had regional and national reputations. Dr. Lewis was the architect and first medical director of the Greater Marshfield Community Health Plan, one of the earliest HMOs in the country and predecessor of today's Security Health Plan of Wisconsin, Inc. 

In 1970, he became the Clinic's first medical director. Dr. Lawton served on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents and was a presidential appointee to the nation's Institute of Medicine. To recognize his social advocacy, Dr. Lawton received a pen used by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 to sign Medicare into law.


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Marshfield Clinic responded to the growing need for health care. For example, in 1956, Marshfield Clinic had 26 doctors; that number tripled by the 1960s.​

Along with growing staff was the need for space. The first Clinic building was built in 1926 in downtown Marshfield. A new 212,000-square-foot facility near the edge of the city, physically connecting the Clinic with Saint Joseph's Hospital, was built and occupied in 1975. Additions were completed in 1984, 1989 and 2003.

Marshfield Clinic had one location until 1976, when the city of Mosinee invited the Clinic to establish a satellite location. The Clinic’s Ladysmith Center opened a year later, while Greenwood and Stanley practices opened in 1978. Ladysmith, Greenwood, Stanley and other practices had been Public Health Service (PHS) offices, which the Clinic assumed when PHS was unable to provide physicians.

Through mergers with existing groups, purchases of practices and primary development, the 1980s saw Marshfield Clinic established in Colby/Abbotsford, Chippewa Falls, Minocqua, Park Falls, Phillips and Mercer. These sites were followed in the 1990s by practices in Rice Lake, Merrill, Wausau, Eau Claire and other communities.

The Clinic system now encompasses more than 50 locations in Wisconsin, including dental services under the auspices of the Family Health Center of Marshfield, Inc.

Health System today

Today, Marshfield Clinic Health System is an integrated health system whose mission is to enrich lives through accessible, affordable compassionate health care. The Health System serves Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula with more than 1,600 providers comprising 170 specialties, health plan, and research and education programs. Primary operations include more than 60 Marshfield Clinic locations, 11 hospitals, Marshfield Children's Hospital, Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, Security Health Plan and Marshfield Clinic Health System Foundation. ​

Marshfield Clinic Health System has grown into one of the largest private, multispecialty group practices in the United States.