An F5 tornado hit Rochester, Minnesota today in 1883 leading Dr. William Mayo to establish the Mayo Clinic. Now WE know em


William Worall Mayo was born May 31, 1819 in Eccles, near Salford, Greater Manchester, England and studied science and medicine in Manchester, Glasgow, and London before leaving for the United States in 1845.

Mayo became a pharmacist at Bellevue Hospital in New York City before moving west.

Next, he spent some time in Buffalo, New York before settling in Lafayette, Indiana where he worked as a tailor (one of the vocations he had while in England).

In 1849, Mayo returned to his interest in medicine, assisting in a cholera outbreak and then attending courses at Indiana Medical College in La Porte, Indiana where he earned his medical degree.

Although Mayo’s training would be considered mediocre by modern standards, the school did have a microscope, an uncommon tool at the time. Knowledge of how to use this instrument would prove to be useful in his future practice.

William Mayo received his M.D. degree on February 14, 1850.

In 1851, he married Louise Abigail Wright.

Around 1853, he left his family to work as an assistant at the University of Missouri’s medical department. Mayo returned home in 1854, but contracted malaria and decided to leave the Lafayette area, saying, “I’m going to keep on driving until I get well or die.”

Mayo found his way to Minnesota, which he supposedly thought would have a more healthful climate.

He settled in Saint Paul, but returned to Indiana a short time later to bring his family with him to the Minnesota territory.

Mayo then found his way to the present-day area of Duluth where he worked as a census-taker.

He settled down with his family at a village named Cronan’s Precinct (near Le Sueur) along the Minnesota River where he became known as the “Little Doctor” because of his 5-foot-4-inch stature.

Mayo tried his hand at a number of different activities including farming, operating a ferry service, and serving as a judge in addition to occasional medical duties.

By this time, his wife had given birth to three daughters.

After a flood in 1859, Mayo moved the family to a home on Main Street in Le Sueur.

There, he set up his first official medical practice, but the flow of patients was too meager to support his family.

Mayo took to publishing a short-lived newspaper, the Le Sueur Courier, which only lasted about three months. He also spent time working on a steamboat.

His wife then gave birth to a son in 1861.

As the American Civil War began, Mayo attempted to procure a commission as a military surgeon, but was rejected. Nonetheless, he found his way into military medicine as the Dakota War of 1862 erupted in southwest Minnesota in late 1862.

The Mayo family, circa 1862

The Mayo family, circa 1862

Organizing a group of people from Le Sueur and St. Peter, Mayo headed out to New Ulm, where some of the worst fighting had occurred. Makeshift hospitals in the city cared for people injured in the conflict, as well as refugees driven from farms in the area.

His wife opened their home and a nearby barn to harbor eleven refugee families back in Le Sueur.

In 1863, Mayo finally was engaged as a military surgeon for the draft board in Rochester, Minnesota. He left his family behind once more for that position, soon finding the new city to his liking.

So, his family joined him in Rochester early in 1864. A year later, his second son was born.

William W. Mayo opened a medical practice in Rochester, also spending time as a city mayor, alderman, and member of the school board.

He also served in the Minnesota State Senate from 1891 to 1895.

Here in Rochester, the number of patients was large enough to support his family with no need for him to assume additional jobs.

Mayo also spent some time in New York and Pennsylvania in 1869 studying surgical techniques.

His son Will graduated from medical school in 1883 and joined his fathers practice.

Then the event that is usually credited with beginning the “Mayo Clinic Story” happened August 21, 1883, when an F5 tornado devastated Rochester, Minnesota.

Mayo Clinic

One-third of the town was destroyed, but the Mayo family escaped serious harm.

The tornado caused at least 37 deaths in the area with well over 200 injuries.

With the assistance of his sons, other regional doctors, and the local Sisters of Saint Francis of Rochester, Minnesota, William Mayo organized treatment of the injured.

Relief efforts began immediately with a temporary hospital being established at the city dance hall, and the doctors Mayo (W.W. and son Will) were extensively involved in treating the injured who were brought there for help.

Mother Alfred Moes and the Sisters of Saint Francis (a teaching order) were called in to act as nurses despite having been trained as teachers and with little if any medical experience.

After the crisis subsided, Mother Moes convinced Mayo to help her establish a new hospital under her direction, forming St. Marys Hospital September 30, 1889.

At the time, only three people were on the surgical staff: William Worrall Mayo as chief, and his two sons as the other principal medical practitioners.

No other doctors accepted invitations to join them at the time.

Then in 1892, William Worrall Mayo asked Dr. Augustus Stinchfield to join his practice as a full partner. Once Stinchfield accepted the offer, W. W. Mayo promptly retired at age 73.

As the practice grew, Drs. Christopher Graham, E. Starr Judd, Henry Stanley Plummer, Melvin Millet, and Donald Balfour were also invited to join as partners.

In 1910, the retired Dr. Mayo became interested in the extraction and distillation of alcohol from animal and vegetable wastes, and one day suffered a serious injury when the extraction mechanism crushed his arm and hand.

That injury necessitated an amputation and produced complications which resulted in his death March 6, 1911, shortly before Mayo’s 92nd birthday.

His wife then died in 1915. They are buried next to each other at Oakwood Cemetery in Rochester.

In 1919, the partners of the private practice created the Mayo Properties Association and established the Mayo Clinic as a not-for-profit entity.

The Mayo family home in Le Sueur was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.

W. W. Mayo is honored together with Charles Menninger and their sons with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on March 6.

 Now WE know em

Statue of Dr. Mayo near the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

Statue of Dr. Mayo near the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.


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