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Biographical entry Mayo, Charles Horace (1865 - 1939)

Hon FRCS 12 February 1920; MA MD Northwestern 1888; FACS 1913.

19 July 1865
Rochester, Minnesota, USA
26 May 1939
Chicago, Illinois, USA
General surgeon


Born on 19 July 1865 at Rochester in the State of Minnesota, USA, the second son of William Worrall Mayo and Louise Abigail Wright, his wife. The father, a chemist, emigrated from Manchester, England, to the United States in 1845 and may have been a member of the family of Mayo who had lived in Wiltshire for several generations as clergymen and schoolmasters. These Mayos turned their attention to medicine in the nineteenth century, and amongst them were Dr John Mayo (d 1818), Dr Thomas Mayo (d 1871), Herbert Mayo, FRCS, and Charles Mayo, FRCS, of Winchester, all distinguished in their profession. William Worrall Mayo on his arrival in New York acted as a chemist and became instructor in chemistry at Bellevue Hospital Medical College until 1847. He moved to Indiana in this year, and later went to St Louis, where he studied medicine, and practised for a time at La Porte, Ind. From there he settled in Minnesota, then a wild prairie country, in 1855. He was at Le Sueur during the Indian uprising at Yellow Medicine Agency in 1862 and dressed the wounded pioneers, was afterwards appointed provost surgeon to the Federal Forces in South Minnesota and was put in charge of the civil war recruiting stations. The family moved in 1863 to Rochester, Minnesota, then a small and little-known town which the Mayo family made world-renowned. There Charles Mayo was born and was educated at the Rochester High School. He graduated MA, MD in 1888 from the Northwestern University.

A cyclone swept Rochester in 1883; William Mayo, the father, and William James ("Willie") Mayo, his elder son, did much for the victims and their work was not forgotten. The Sisters of the Order of St Francis commemorated the cyclone by founding and endowing the Hospital of St Mary and in 1889 invited William Worrall Mayo to act as the administrator and his two sons, William and Charles, to be the surgeons. The Mayo Clinic thus began in October 1889 with a staff of three surgeons and thirteen patients. From this small beginning arose the vast organiza┬Čtion which attained international fame, introduced team work into the medical profession, and greatly advanced the knowledge and study of surgery, William and Charles Mayo being the mainstays throughout.

Charles married Edith Graham of Rochester, Minnesota, in 1893 who survived him with two sons and four daughters, one of whom married in 1923 Frederick Wharton Rankin, surgeon to the Mayo Clinic. He died of pneumonia in Mercy Hospital, Chicago on 26 May 1939. The memorial service was held in Calvary Episcopal Church, Rochester on 29 May after his body lying in state in the Mayo Clinic had been visited by more than 9,000 persons.

The Mayo's present the pleasing and almost unique example of two surgeons who were brothers literally dwelling together in unity. Both had the same idea of making a living by the practice of their profession and when success came far beyond their expectation both devoted the surplus to the advancement of surgery in its scientific and practical aspects. Neither brother had expensive tastes or habits and each remained humble minded and unspoilt by success. Of the two, Charles was the more versatile, William had the wider outlook; both were benevolent and both looked upon their patients as individuals and not as cases. The outcome of their work was to raise surgery in the United States from mediocrity to so high a standard as to make the Mayo Clinic and the Mayo Institute at. Rochester a school for all the younger generation of surgeons throughout the world.

Sources used to compile this entry: [New York Times, 7 May 1939, with portrait, a good likeness; The Times 29 May 1939, p 12d; Lancet, 1939, 1, 1294; Brit med J 1939, 1, 1145, p 1159 with portrait, and p 1207; J int Coll Surg 1939, 2, 366, with portrait; Brit J Surg 1939-40, 27, 436, with portrait; Bull Amer Coll Surg 1939, 24, 155, by G W Crile, with portrait; Helen Clapesattle The Doctors Mayo, Univ of Minnesota press, 1941, 822 pp portraits; personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England Library