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June 4, 2019

Flashback: 200 Years Since the Birth of Dr. William Worrall Mayo

By SharingMayoClinic
2019 marks two centuries since the birth of William Worrall Mayo, M.D., on May 31, 1819. Learn more about Dr. Mayo's humble beginnings in Salford, England.

2019 marks two centuries since the birth of William Worrall Mayo, M.D., on May 31, 1819. Learn more about Dr. Mayo's humble beginnings in Salford, England.


On May 31, 1819, William Worrall Mayo, M.D., was born in Salford, England. In the two centuries that have passed since then, the medical practice Dr. Mayo and his sons William J. Mayo, M.D., and Charles H. Mayo, M.D., eventually established in Rochester, Minnesota, has grown into a world-renowned organization dedicated to excellence in patient care, research and education. But at the time of Dr. Mayo's birth, there was little to indicate the far-reaching influence he and his family would have on health care.

Rooted in history

Salford, where Dr. Mayo was born, is located near Manchester, England, which was the epicenter of the Industrial Revolution during his youth. As he grew, Dr. Mayo witnessed the opportunities and the oppression of rapidly changing economic conditions. This inspired him with what became known among the Mayo family as the "give-back" philosophy.

"Our father recognized certain definite social obligations," Dr. William J. Mayo wrote many years later. "He believed that the important thing in life is not to accomplish for one's self alone, but for each to carry his share of collective responsibility."

Humble beginnings

Dr. William Worrall Mayo's father, a skilled cabinetmaker, died when young William was just 7 years old. There was no free public education in England at the time. His mother could not afford tuition for primary and middle school, let alone university, so Dr. Mayo trained as a tailor, demonstrating skill with his hands that later served him well as a surgeon.

"The up-to-date and exacting Mayo Clinic of today is a reflection of my grandfather's personal style as a doctor. He was a perfectionist who was … always delighted at any opportunity to improve medicine."

Charles W. Mayo M.D.

Seeking further opportunities, Dr. Mayo left England for the U.S. in 1846. In the years that followed, he earned two degrees and pursued a wide range of jobs, since it was difficult to make a living in medicine. He married Louise Wright, his life's partner and an astute businesswoman. The Mayos started a family and settled in Rochester, where Dr. Mayo finally became a full-time physician.

Later, Charles W. Mayo, M.D., Dr. William Worrall Mayo's grandson and a highly respected surgeon, wrote of his grandfather: "The up-to-date and exacting Mayo Clinic of today is a reflection of my grandfather's personal style as a doctor. He was a perfectionist who was … always delighted at any opportunity to improve medicine."

Honored in his birthplace

Although he traveled far from England to make his name, Dr. William Worrall Mayo still is well-remembered in his birthplace. In 1929, the Mayo brothers made their first joint overseas trip, where they received honors from the British Medical Association. At that time, they dedicated a stained-glass window in the church in Salford, where their father was baptized 110 years earlier.

In the window, Francis Spear, an acclaimed London artist, used traditional symbolism to tell the story of the elder Mayo's life. During World War II, Manchester was bombed heavily, but the Mayo window survived intact. In June, Mayo Clinic patients and visitors will have an opportunity to view the window's artwork when an original chalk illustration of the window, created by the internationally recognized artist and Salford native Harold Riley, will be displayed in Heritage Hall at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus.

There is even a Mayo Building in England. In 2009, marking the 190th anniversary of Dr. William Worrall Mayo's birth, the Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, one of Britain's premiere medical centers, opened a facility named in his honor. The Mayo Building provides advanced services for medical education and research — a fitting tribute for the first Dr. Mayo, whose international outlook and commitment to excellence helped shape Mayo Clinic.


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Tags: Dr. Charles H. Mayo, Dr. William J. Mayo, Dr. William Worrall Mayo, History, Mayo Clinic history and heritage

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