Mrs. Mayo—Victorian Businesswoman #ThrowbackThursday

Louise Mayo advertised her thriving business in a St. Paul, Minnesota, newspaper.

One of the most important characteristics of Mayo Clinic is the close collaboration of physicians and administrators, which helps ensure that Mayo is a well-run organization based upon the primary value of placing the needs of each patient first. The earliest example of combining medical ideals and business acumen is the teamwork of Dr. William Worrall Mayo and his wife Louise.

Throughout their marriage, Louise made sure that her husband’s bills were collected, and the family was on a sound financial footing. As we will see later in this timeline, she played a key role in major decisions about the family staying in Rochester, Minnesota; mortgaging their home to purchase a microscope; welcoming Dr. Mayo’s patients in his absence; and shaping the character formation of their sons.

Mrs. Mayo traveled to New York City to bring the latest fashions to her customers in Indiana and Minnesota. (Image courtesy of Mayo Clinic.)

Early in their marriage, Louise Mayo took a rare step for a woman in the Victorian era and went into business. In her customary forthright manner, she later explained that she did so to “to put food on the table.” Her vocation was a milliner, making hats and selling them along with other fashion accessories. She ordered supplies in the latest style from merchants in New York City and even made trips to New York to select inventory.

Her grandson Dr. Charles W. (Chuck) Mayo wrote:

“She had a great talent for business, that woman. When a daughter was born . . . Grandmother didn’t lose stride. She took in a partner, and the business continued to prosper.”

Mrs. Mayo ran her millinery business from approximately 1852 to 1856. It is a tribute to her skill that her business thrived in La Porte, Indiana, their first home as a married couple; that she moved her inventory to St. Paul, when Dr. Mayo decided to relocate to Minnesota; and that her business prospered there even as his medical practice struggled.

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.