On May 31, 1819, a boy was born in a small village near Manchester, England. His father died when the boy was only seven, leaving his mother to raise him and his five siblings. She worked hard to provide a good education for her children; the boy was tutored in Latin and Greek and began studies in medicine and science with John Dalton, who would later be known as "the father of modern physical science" for his groundbreaking work in developing the atomic theory of matter.
The boy grew into a man, and at twenty-seven he left Manchester for the United States. He landed in New York and soon moved west, working as a pharmacist, a tailor, a census taker, a farmer, a newspaper publisher, a justice of the peace, a ferryboat operator, and a veterinarian before completing his medical training in Indiana in 1850 and moving to Minnesota four years later.
Thus begins the story of Dr. William Worrall Mayo, whose name is synonymous today with high-quality, compassionate health care. Dr. Mayo and his sons, William and Charles, helped put our state on the map when they founded their clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
In 1861, William W. Mayo, then living in Le Sueur, Minnesota, volunteered for duty in the Union army, but his application for regimental surgeon was denied. Two years later, he was appointed the examining surgeon for an enrollment board based in Rochester that selected military recruits. In January 1864, William W. Mayo, his wife Louise—a skilled milliner who would later become her husband's medical assistant—and their children settled down in Rochester for good.
From the start, the Mayos' private practice was a family affair. Mrs. Mayo instructed her sons, Will and Charlie, in botany as they worked in the garden; their father taught them chemistry and anatomy, and if an emergency called for it, he invited them, their sisters, and their mother to accompany him on patient calls. "We came along in medicine like boys on a farm," Charlie later said. After earning their medical degrees—Will from the University of Michigan in 1883 and Charlie from Chicago Medical College five years later—they both returned to Rochester to join their father's growing practice.
On August 21, 1883, a devastating tornado swept through Rochester. The Mayos and other Rochester doctors soon established an emergency hospital in the town's dance hall. Recognizing the need for round-the-clock care for patients, the Mayos enlisted the help of Mother Alfred Moes and the Sisters of St. Francis. Though trained as teachers, the nuns remained at the temporary hospital until it closed. Mother Alfred didn't forget her experience, though, and she began working with the Mayo family to establish a permanent hospital in Rochester. In 1889, St. Mary's Hospital, a three-story brick building equipped for twenty-seven patients, opened. It became the Mayo Clinic in 1914.
The practices that make Mayo Clinic an international name today were established in the early years. Teamwork—groups of specialists working together to teach, to learn, and to treat patients—is at the heart of the clinic's practice of integrated care. Dr. Henry Plummer, who joined the clinic 1901, established other innovations. Credited with operating the clinic's first X-ray machine, Plummer was also the architect of the system of patient record keeping—in which each patient is assigned a number and a unique medical history chart—that is the foundation of today's record systems.
Said Dr. William W. Mayo in 1910: "The sum-total of medical knowledge is now so great and wide-spreading that it would be futile for one man to attempt to acquire, or for any one man to assume that he has, even a good working knowledge of any large part of the whole. ... The best interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered, and in order that the sick may have the benefit of advancing knowledge, union of forces is necessary."
In 1883, the Doctors Mayo, along with other Rochester doctors, establish an emergency hospital following a devastating August tornado. This act eventually leads to the founding of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic.