William James Mayo was an internationally known American physician and surgeon who was one of the founders of the Mayo Clinic. He grew up to be a distinguished surgeon in his own right, specialized in belly, pelvic, and kidney associated illnesses, after being trained by his physician father since infancy. Later, he founded the Mayo Clinic with his brother, Charles Horace Mayo, and five others. Following WWI, the clinic became the Mayo Foundation, a non-profit medical institution known for its treatment and research. Despite the fact that Dr. Will, as he was called, was the head of administration, he never made a decision without consulting others and participated actively in surgery. The brothers had a passion for medical education and were essential in the founding of the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research in Rochester, which is now part of the University of Minnesota. Dr. Will was designated Chief Adviser for US Army Surgical Services during WWI and eventually received the US Distinguished Service Medal for his efforts.
Childhood and Adolescence
William James Mayo was born in Le Sueur, Minnesota, on June 29, 1861. In 1846, his father, William Worrall Mayo, immigrated from England, a descendant of the seventeenth-century English scientist and physician John Mayow. The senior Mayo had become a well-known doctor after getting his medical degree from Indiana Medical College.
William Worrall had five children with his wife, Louise Abigail Wright: three daughters and two sons. Their eldest son, William James, was their second child. Charles Horace, his younger brother, was four years his senior.
The family moved to a farm in Rochester when William James was about two years old. Charles was born in this town. The two brothers led typical lives, attending public schools and performing farm chores.
The education they acquired outside of their usual school curriculum was what set them apart. For example, they were assigned to work after school to get experience in preparation for their future vocation, which their parents had already decided: medical.
Dr. Mayo also kept a vast medical library in his office, and while the brothers were occupied with household and office activities, he would teach them not only medical knowledge, but also chemistry, physics, and anatomy.
Their mother would take children for walks about the property, pointing out various plants and noting not just their identification but also their many botanical characteristics. She also had a telescope installed on the roof to stimulate their interest in astronomy.
The boys were also compelled to attend Rochester Training School, where they were taught Latin, art, and literature. Their parents also had a vast library of classics at home and encouraged the two boys to read from it. Their favorite authors were Charles Dickens and James Fenimore Cooper.
While Dickens’ works awoke societal consciousness in them, Cooper’s writings taught them to appreciate their home and its people. Furthermore, their parents told kids about their personal experiences during the Dakota War and the Civil War.
As a result, the parents gradually instilled in their children a dislike for not only violent wars but also discrimination. They also taught the two boys the value of teamwork and that no man can exist without the help of others, a lesson they never forgot.
They began attending their father on his work calls once they were a little older. They first noticed him making diagnoses. Later, Dr. Mayo began to explain to the brothers the symptoms that led to the diagnoses he had made, as well as the treatment procedures he had prescribed.
The brothers also aided their father in his medical procedures, at first performing mundane tasks. They began providing anesthetic and closing up blood vessels later on. William James’ father took him to an abandoned hotel to see one of his patients when he was sixteen years old. It was a rainy night, and the patient had died before they arrived. As a result, Senior Mayo did an autopsy on the body. He begged William James to stay back because he had another call to make.
Before leaving home, he told his son to sew up the incisions and put the sheet around the body. William, sixteen, accomplished all of this, albeit uncomfortably, and, to his credit, quietly walked out of the place rather than running.
William James enrolled in the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, for medical school after graduating from high school. On March 2, 1882, he co-founded Nu Sigma Nu (N), the world’s first medical professional fraternity. He obtained his medical degree the following year.
Working under the supervision of his father
William James Mayo returned to Rochester in 1883, shortly after getting his MD, to join his father’s already successful practice. On August 21, the same year, a devastating tornado struck Rochester, killing 24 people and injuring 40 more.
The injured were taken to the town’s dance hall, where Sr. Mayo began his treatment, as there was no hospital. Apart from William James, who was already a doctor, and Charles Horace, who was in his final year of school at the time, the Sisters of Saint Francis, led by Mother Mary Alfred Moes, stepped forward to assist him.
Mother Moes later approached Dr. W. W. Mayo with a plan to construct a suitable hospital, and after Dr. Mayo consented, she began soliciting finances. St. Mary’s Hospital finally opened its doors on September 30, 1889.
Charles Horace had also completed his training as a doctor by that time and had returned home to join their practice. The three Mayo doctors became attached to the facility after it opened. They continued their private practice at the same time.
W. W. Mayo, 70, became the consultant physician at St. Mary’s Hospital, while William James, known as Dr. Will, and Charles Horace, known as Dr. Charlie, saw patients and performed the surgery. As nurses, the Sisters of Saint Francis assisted them.
Doctors Will and Charlie quickly rose to prominence as successful surgeons. Charles specialized in the thyroid, neurology, cataract, and orthopedic surgery, whereas William focused on abdominal, pelvic, and kidney disorders.
According to hospital protocol, patients were charged based on their financial ability to pay. This, combined with the Mayo doctors’ reputation, attracted such a large number of patients that they struggled to see each one.
As a result, it was decided that only those patients would be admitted to the hospital who had been recommended by one of the Mayo doctors. After that, they’d be able to work in a less stressful environment.
Foundation of Mayo Clinic
Dr. W. W. Mayo retired from active duty in 1892, leaving his private practice and St. Mary Hospital in the hands of William and Charles. But first, he enlisted the help of Dr. Augustus W. Stinchfield to assist his boys.
Dr. Christopher Graham, Dr. E. Star Judd, Dr. Henry Stanley Plummer, Dr. Melvin Millet, and Dr. Donald Balfour were added to the group later. Despite the fact that Sr. Mayo had retired by that time, they continued to labor under his supervision.
In 1903, this close collaboration resulted in the establishment of the ‘Mayo Clinic,’ which was led by W. W. Mayo. It continued to operate, though, from St. Mary’s Hospital. The profits from the private group practice were initially split among the partners, while other employees were hired on a pay basis.
The same policy of charging patients based on their ability to pay was applied here as well. As a result, 30% of the clinic’s patients received free treatment, and another 25% received treatment at a low cost. As the Mayo brothers’ fame grew, so did the number of paid patients who came in.
William James Mayo continued to serve St. Mary’s Hospital in addition to working at the Mayo Clinic until 1905. Following that, he began to focus entirely on Mayo Clinic. Despite the fact that he was in control of the administration, he never made a decision without consulting his brother first.
The Mayo Clinic quickly outgrew its available facilities. As a result, it became necessary to construct a new structure. Following that, in 1914, a new structure was constructed under the supervision of Dr. Henry Stanley Plummer. The ‘Red Building,’ as it was known, was the physical manifestation of the integrated group medical practice.
They were particularly concerned with sterilization throughout. The Red Building was the first hospital to use steam sterilization rooms, which were designed to keep a lot of the metal surgical furniture, tools, and equipment from the operating rooms.
At the same time, the Mayo brothers recognized the importance of continuing their medical education and began traveling hospitals all over the world to acquire new treatments. They gave $1.5 million to the University of Minnesota in 1915, and the university in Rochester formed the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research using that money.
Years of War
As the First World War began, William James Mayo was promoted to Colonel and designated Chief Adviser for U.S. Army Surgical Services in the office of the U.S. Army Surgeon General. Dr. Charlie was a Colonel in the United States Army Medical Corps as well.
William James Mayo was appointed Chairman of the Committee of American Physicians for Medical Preparedness in 1916. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester began to play a significant role in the war effort by screening draftees and educating new doctors in the Medical Corps, for whom new courses had to be developed.
Apart from overseeing their clinic’s routine operations, the Mayo brothers were also responsible for all of the wartime labor. As a result, one of the brothers was required to present himself in Rochester on a regular basis. As a result, they were forced to travel between Washington and Rochester on a regular basis.
William contracted hepatitis in 1918 as a result of his rigorous schedule. After the war, he and Charles were both elevated to Brigadier General in the United States Army Reserve in the same year.
The Mayo Foundation
Until now, the Mayo Clinic has been a profitable venture, with all partners receiving a cut of the profits. The Mayo brothers converted it into a non-profit organization in 1919, with the approval of its founders, first calling it Mayo Properties Association and then the Mayo Foundation.
Except for William and Charles, all of the partners began to be paid after that. Despite the fact that William was the foundation’s administrative leader, he continued to participate in surgery until 1928.
In 1933, William James Mayo announced his retirement. He remained on the Mayo Foundation Board of Directors until his death in 1939, however, and continued to be involved in its operations.
Major Projects of Mayo
William Mayo is primarily known for founding the Mayo Foundation, despite being a wonderful administrator and surgeon. Under his skilled leadership, a forty-five-bed hospital with only one operating theatre blossomed into a large non-profit hospital and educational institution in a very short time.
Achievements & Awards
William James Mayo received the United States Distinguished Devotion Medal for his service to the country during WWII. He was elected to the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota in 1907, a post he kept for the remainder of his life.
Personal History and Legacy
William James Mayo married Hattie Marie Damon in 1888. William Damon Mayo, Worrall Mayo, and Helen Phoebe Mayo were their three children, all of whom died in infancy.
The Mayo brothers bought adjacent properties in Tucson, Arizona, after retiring. They did, however, frequently travel to Rochester for Board meetings. While on one of these visits to Rochester in the spring of 1939, William was diagnosed with stomach cancer and underwent surgery.
Unfortunately, the procedure failed, and he returned to his hometown of Rochester. On July 28, 1939, he died there. Charles, by the way, had died just two months before from illness.
The Mayo Foundation, which was founded by the Mayos at the turn of the century, has grown into a massive organization that is carrying on its legacy.
The Mayo brothers were featured on a stamp issued by the United States Postal Service on September 11, 1964.
William’s Rochester residence was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Built-in 1916, this 24,000 square meter, six-story home features a mix of Renaissance Revival and English Tudor styles. He donated it to the Mayo Foundation in 1938, and it is today known as Mayo Foundation House.
Estimated Net Worth
William is one of the wealthiest doctors in the world, as well as one of the most popular. William James Mayo’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.
William Mayo was asked to estimate the state of the world eighty years from now in September 1931, and he predicted that by the early twenty-first century, life expectancy in affluent countries will rise from 60 to 70 years.
He was also a witty individual. He was once asked if he was the chief doctor by a wealthy man with a superior demeanor. “No, my brother is the head doctor,” he replied. “I’m the stomach doctor.” Indeed, he specialized in abdominal disorders, whereas Charles specialized in neurosurgery and cataract operations.