Edith Graham Mayo was often referred to as an Angel of Mercy. Mayo is a magic name in America. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota is probably better known throughout the country than any hospital or medical center, and the woman behind the man, Charles H. Mayo, co-founder of the clinic, was selected as the 1940 National Mother of the Year.
Edith Graham Mayo’s citation presented at a luncheon in New York City, read “faithful wife of one who was able the more skillfully to serve his fellows’ need because his home was a haven of blessing and of peace.” Besides being the wife of a famous doctor, Edith Mayo had a full and busy life of her own, raising eight children and serving her community.
When Edith Mayo arrived as the bride of the young doctor, Rochester was a village of 5,000 persons. She watched the population grow to 30,000, largely due to the activity of the Clinic. As the medical center grew, more people came to Rochester to work or to study. Relatives of patients came to the city. A YWCA was a pressing need and Mrs. Mayo worked until it was a reality, even giving her house in town for its headquarters.
Edith Mayo knew women in a strange town could become lonely, so she organized the wives of doctors studying on fellowships, who were there for only a year or two, into the Rochester Magazine Club. The 500 young women employees of the Clinic were invited to join the Mayo Clinic Women’s Club, which she also helped organize.
Edith was born on a farm in Calmar Township, only six and a half miles northeast of Rochester. In a day when it was still unusual for women to have careers, Edith Graham went to Chicago to study nursing at Women’s Hospital. Like many a young nurse at the time, she dreamed of marrying a doctor, and in 1893 she did. It proved to be a happy partnership through all of its 46 years until Dr. Mayo’s death in 1939.
When the telephone call came through from New York with the news that she had been selected as the 1940 National Mother of the Year, Mrs. Mayo responded characteristically, “Why, I’ve never done anything!” Perhaps she was right. She didn’t do anything except be a Mother to a family, a clinic and to a whole city. She died three years later.