Hattie Mayo was a true Rochesterite. Born in Rochester on May 4, 1864 as Hattie May Damon, she was the daughter of the town jeweler, Eleazer Damon, and his wife, Caroline Warner Damon. Hattie was raised an only child when her family lost her older sister Emma.
In 1868, William Worall Mayo, father to Will and Charlie Mayo, and then a prominent member of the school board, had Rochester build the up-to-date Central School. Though only four years old, Hattie loved playing at the school and often could be seen sliding down its stone banisters. Her father decided she might as well attend the school for an education. Hattie was always a good student who loved to draw and read.
The wife of Will
After graduating from Central School, she attended Rochester’s Niles Academy, a school to prepare students for college. Her classmates were Will and Charlie Mayo. She briefly lived outside Rochester when she went to the coeducational Carleton College, living in the college’s dormitory in Northfield. After completing a year, Hattie returned to Rochester to marry Will Mayo who had just graduated from medical school at the University of Michigan in 1884.
Hattie was known as artistic and shy. But as the wife of Will Mayo, she worked hard to be a sparkling hostess to visiting doctors and dignitaries, becoming very successful at it. One journalist wrote of her, “Mrs. Mayo has been responsible in no small measure for her husband’s success and happiness. She presides over a beautiful, quiet and comfortable home. It may easily be understood that Dr. Mayo’s freedom from home cares and worries has enabled him to devote greater energy to his professional life.”
As an only child, Hattie longed for a large family. She and Will Mayo had their first child in 1887, Carrie, named for Hattie’s mother. In just five years, Carrie was followed by Worrall, Helen and William Damon. Unfortunately, these three little ones were all lost in infancy, and it wasn’t until 1897 that another daughter, Phoebe, joined the family.
Influence in Rochester
Hattie was known as a community leader. She was active in the American Association of University Women and the League of Women Voters. With sister-in-law Edith Mayo, she founded the Magazine Club, an organization for physicians’ wives which has evolved into the current Alice Mayo Society.
Hattie was artistic as a child and was inspired by the grand buildings she saw rise up from the prairie. She held a life-long interest in architecture, working with designers and architects on the two homes she and Will Mayo built, now known as the Foundation and the Damon Houses. She also collaborated on the designs for the two boats the Mayos had built, the Minnesota and the North Star. She even contributed to design on her children’s homes.
Hattie and Will Mayo celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1934 and were married nearly 55 years before his death in 1939.
Hattie Damon Mayo might have preferred a quiet and retiring life, but she embraced the spotlight of her well-known husband and his family. She was a steadfast and dignified supporter of the Mayo practice and what was to become the Mayo Clinic.
Coralee Grebe is artistic director of It’s About Time Theater.