Proud to be a tea-sippin' nerd of a mommy!
Proud to be a tea-sippin' nerd of a mommy!

Women of Mayo Clinic: The Founding Generation

By, Virginia M. Wright-Peterson


The story of Mayo Clinic begins on the Minnesota prairie following a devastating tornado in 1883. Women of Mayo Clinic traces those early days from the perspectives of more than forty women—nurses, librarians, social workers, mothers, sisters, and wives—who were instrumental in the world-renowned medical center’s development. Mother Alfred Moes persuaded Dr. William Worrall Mayo to take on the hospital project. Edith Graham was the first professionally-trained nurse to work at the practice. Alice Magaw developed a national reputation administering anesthesia in the operating rooms. Maud Mellish Wilson established the library and burnished the clinic’s standing through widely-distributed publications about its innovations. Through institutional records and clippings from the period, the stories of these and other talented, dedicated pioneers are told, introducing a welcome new perspective on the history of both Mayo Clinic and women in medicine. While these women contributed to the clinic’s origins and success, their roles have not been widely celebrated—until now.


• Minnesota Historical Society Press (March 1, 2016)
• Paperback, 224 pages, 38 B&W Photos, Notes, Index, Appendix, 6 x 9 inches
• ISBN: 9781681340005

This book makes you stop and go “WOW” multiple times as you learn about the pioneering steps so many women had in the founding of the clinic. My favorite chapter was “Arriving in Pioneer Rochester.” The chapter really brought to life Louise Wright Mayo’s personality. I was astounded by her - talk about the true definition of a super hero/super mom. She was intelligent, resourceful, and made learning a priority for her entire family. At times, W.W. Mayo would leave for months to years on end for further training. One time when he left for additional training, Louise was “stone blind” blind due to an infection she contracted while she had been helping in W.W.’s eye clinic. She was left in charge of their young children, their household, and W.W.’s patients who would sometimes come to her for medical help. The author was able to quote Louise Mayo a few times. I laughed out loud when Louise was talking about her husband’s one true vice: books. She commented that while she may have been planning a new dress for their daughter or a new item for their home, then a “book agent would come to town and kick over my milk bucket” (paraphrased). While I am totally on W.W.’s side in this argument, the way Louise worded this observation really endured her and brought out more than just a tally of her deeds. This was the true magic in Wright-Peterson’s book for me.

There are many women outlined in this book, and Wright-Peterson deftly handles introducing and weaving the stories together. At times she comes back to earlier moments to help round out how the women related to one another during the periods of time when the clinic was growing. Wright-Peterson handled the multiple people and accomplishments well. I only had to stop a couple times to remind myself of who someone was. However, unlike chapter 2 mostly surrounding Louise Mayo, the personalities of the women narrated in subsequent chapters do not speak out beyond the pages. There is a lot of material to cover and, unfortunately, readers do not feel as much from these women personality-wise.

A couple suggestions I had for the book: (1) More pictures! I love seeing the historical pictures. I know there are more pictures of the founders and their wives. Perhaps due to a lack of pictures some of the women mentioned (social workers, nurses, etc) is why there were so few of the more well-known women. However, I would have liked a few more photos included, particularly candid shots which can be seen on the walls of Mayo Clinic (Edith looking fondly up at her husband Charlie). As mentioned above, personalities were hard to capture in the narrative, so more photos might have helped provide more information. (2) The last few chapters were a downhill road for women in medicine. The book ended on a low note. Wright-Peterson crafted a fascinating story of multiple women’s lives in this book. Thus, it would have been nice to include some positive follow-up for the close of the book. It concluded pretty much on the deaths of Dr. Will’s and Dr. Charlie’s wives. So a little more narrative at the end would have been nice to help lift up how these accomplishments continue to carry forward. It was acknowledged a little, but I think it needed a bit more sunshine at the end of the book.

This book was well written and meticulously researched. I loved learning about the growth of multiple professions thanks to a foundation built in large part due to strong capable women. I hope this book brings a greater recognition of these women, particularly in the Rochester community. There are many memorials to the male Mayos and a few of the Sisters; however, the women physicians and wives are almost entirely overlooked. Hopefully, the accomplishments highlighted in this book will inspire many women and men for generations that follow and help bring to light more stories of women from the Founding Generation. Highly recommend this book, especially for fans of women's history.

My novels:

"Descendants of Avalon" 

Released via Inklings Publishing 

May 2018

"Heir of the Heretic"

("The Forgotten" volume 2)

Reviewed and awarded the

2016 Indie Editor's Choice

by the Historical Novel Society.

Long listed for the Historical Novel Society 2017 Indie Award.

Reviewer for:

Historical Novel Society Volunteer

NetGalley Professional Reader

Reviews Published
25 Book Reviews
Challenge Participant

Top Goodreads Reviewer

my read shelf:
J. Else's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

Goodreads profile at:

Print Print | Sitemap
© Jessi Hafeman