1863: Mayo and the Military #ThrowbackThursday

In May 1863, while the Battle of Chancellorsville was raging in Virginia and shortly before the climactic Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, an English-born, Minnesota-based physician named William Worrall Mayo, M.D., signed an oath of office. By appointment of President Abraham Lincoln, he agreed to serve as an examining surgeon for the Union Army.

Within a few months, this appointment brought Dr. William Worrall Mayo from his home in Le Sueur, Minnesota, to Rochester, where the enrollment board was headquartered. Early in 1864, he opened a medical practice and settled his family there, purchasing land where the Siebens Building now stands. His job was to examine recruits—sometimes hundreds of them each day—to determine who was fit for military duty. Inductees found it was difficult to fool Dr. William Worrall Mayo—and impossible to bribe him.

Dr. William Worrall Mayo signed this document during the Civil War when he was appointed as an examining surgeon in the Union Army.

After the Civil War ended in April 1865, Dr. William Worrall Mayo stayed in Rochester. His solo practice evolved into a family practice with his sons William J. Mayo, M.D., and Charles Mayo, M.D. Under their leadership, it became the multispecialty institution today known as Mayo Clinic.

Equally enduring is Mayo Clinic’s commitment to the U.S. military. Starting a century ago with America’s entry into World War I and continuing to the present, in times of war and peace, men and women of Mayo Clinic have served in every branch of the armed forces in active duty, reserve status, and as veterans. During World War I, Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota collaborated on a base hospital and surgical unit on the Western front near Allerey, France. In World War II, Mayo hospital units served in New Guinea and the Philippines. A World War II Liberty Ship that was christened S.S. Mayo Brothers saw action in the European and Pacific theaters.

Mayo Clinic has been equally active on the homefront with discoveries ranging from the G suit, an anti-gravity garment worn by fighter pilots, to prosthetic devices for wounded warriors. These innovations support service members and ultimately advance the standard of care for all patients. Colleagues in each shield of Mayo’s mission—Practice, Education, and Research—are involved at multiple levels with military activities today.

Mayo Clinic is recognized for leadership in employing veterans and having policies that support service members. The military is included among Mayo Employee Resource Groups, which provide a forum for fellowship, service, and advocacy.

The inscription on the Rochester carillon shows the respect Dr. William J. Mayo and Dr. Charles Mayo felt for members of the U.S. military.

The Mayo brothers made a personal commitment to the military. Both attained the rank of brigadier general in the Army medical reserves. As surgical consultants to the U.S. Surgeon General during World War I, they alternated duty in Washington, D.C., while managing the clinic, which faced increased patient demand and reduced staff due to enlistments.

These demands put a strain on the health of both brothers. After experiencing a severe case of jaundice, Dr. Will set in motion the administrative steps that transformed Mayo Clinic from a private practice to a not-for-profit organization with a salaried staff—the model that has sustained Mayo’s growth ever since.

One of the institution’s most significant tributes to the military is the Rochester carillon atop the Plummer Building. During ceremonies on September 16, 1928, Dr. Will said, “Today, we dedicate this carillon to the American soldier in grateful memory of heroic actions on land and sea to which America owes her liberty, peace, and prosperity.”

The largest bell, which weighs 7,840 pounds, is inscribed “To the American Soldier.” Since that dedication, every carillon concert has begun with an excerpt from “America.”

Alyssa Frank

Alyssa Frank is a Marketing Segment Manager at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. She leads marketing strategies for product management and specialty testing. Alyssa has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2015.