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Women of Mayo Clinic

Women of Mayo Clinic

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The Founding Generation

Author Virginia M. Wright-Peterson

Minnesota Historical Society Press (March 1, 2016)


Uncovers the extensive involvement of women in the early decades of one of the most prestigious medical centers in the world.


The story of Mayo Clinic begins on the Minnesota prairie following a devastating tornado in 1883. It also begins with the women who joined the growing practice as physicians, as laboratory researchers, as developers of radium therapy and cancer treatments, and as innovators in virtually all aspects of patient care, education, and research. While these women contributed to the clinic’s origins and success, their roles have not been widely celebrated—until now.

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 there. Maud Mellish Wilson established the library and burnished the clinic’s standing through widely distributed publications about its innovations. Virginia Wright-Peterson tells the stories of these and other talented, dedicated pioneers through institutional records and clippings from the period, introducing a welcome new perspective on the history of both Mayo Clinic and women in medicine.

Author information

Virginia Wright-Peterson, a native of Rochester, Minnesota, worked in administrative capacities for Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and Arizona for seventeen years and has taught English and humanities for fourteen years, including as a Fulbright Scholar in Algeria. She also deployed with the American Red Cross and served on a military base in Iraq. She has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and is currently on the writing faculty at University of Minnesota Rochester. Women of Mayo Clinic: The Founding Generation is her first book. She is currently researching contributions made by women in the Midwest during World War II for a possible second book.

Reviews and news

In the media:


Rochester Post-Bulletin's 507 Magazine

Rochester Post-Bulletin

Med-City Beat

KUMD Radio, Duluth

Prairie Public Radio

WTIP Radio, Grand Marais

Rochester Post-Bulletin

​Rochester Post-Bulletin

What It Means to be an American post by Virginia Wright-Peterson

Winner of a 2017 AASLH Leadership in History Award

Advance Praise:

“Who knew, until now, the names and accomplishments of the dozens of women—brave, brilliant, dedicated—who were essential to the founding days of what was to become the world-renowned Mayo Clinic? Brava, author Virginia Wright-Peterson, for bringing to life these remarkable creatures in your book. We’ve waited a long time to meet them!”
Faith Sullivan, author of The Cape Ann and Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse

“A thoroughly researched exploration of a previously unexamined area of Minnesota’s history, Women of Mayo Clinic successfully integrates the lives of the women staffers—everyone from janitors to department heads—into the larger history of the clinic. Detailed enough to serve as a scholarly reference, yet accessible and engaging for the general reader.”
Dr. Peter Kernahan, University of Minnesota

Related resources

Mayo Clinic

What It Means to Be American blog post by Virginia Wright-Peterson

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 224 pages
  • 38 B&W Photos, Notes, Index, Appendix
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • ISBN: 9781681340005

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