Celebrating 100 Years Since the Deed of Gift

One hundred years ago in October, Mayo Clinic was transformed from a private partnership into a not-for-profit medical center through philanthropy.

On Oct. 8, 1919, Dr. William J. Mayo and his wife, Hattie, along with Dr. Charles H. Mayo and his wife, Edith, donated the majority of their life savings in addition to the land, buildings and equipment that made up the thriving medical institution.

Their documented decision, known as the Deed of Gift, was the cornerstone of a series of steps the brothers took that created an entirely new way to deliver care –– an integrated, multispecialty practice with salaried staff members and a mission of patient care integrated with education and research.

“What a masterful piece of forethought is represented by that agreement,” wrote Dr. Charlie’s son, Dr. Chuck Mayo, in 1968. “It means that I and my children don’t own the Clinic or any part of it, so as a principal victim I am in a good position to say how much I admire it.”

The Deed of Gift was far more than a legal document. It served as a statement of the Mayo family’s philosophy of giving back to society. The deed stated: “The success of the Clinic, past, present and future, must be measured largely by its contributions to the general good of humanity.”

While the Deed of Gift would be valued today at approximately $100 million, the Mayo family’s commitment to giving back started much earlier and continued well past 1919.

In 1870, young Will, then 8, and Charlie, 4, witnessed their father, William, a frontier physician, and mother, Louise, who managed the family finances, mortgage their home to buy a microscope.

“If you could do better by the people with this new microscope,” Louise told her husband, “we’ll do it.”

In 1894, early in their careers, the Mayo brothers decided to live on half their income and invest the balance in a fund, which they ultimately donated to Mayo’s educational, research and clinical mission.

“The people’s money,” they determined, would return to the people “in the form of advanced medical education, which would develop better trained physicians, and to research to reduce the amount of sickness.”

Their commitment to serving humanity continued during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Dr. Charlie provided the lead gift to construct what today is Mayo Civic Center.

Dr. Will sold his beloved riverboat, the North Star, and donated the proceeds to the Mayo Clinic Social Service fund in order to pay for the care of patients in financial need.

Since the time of the Mayo brothers, generations of patients, employees, alumni, foundations, corporations and members of the public have continued the Mayo family’s tradition of generosity.

In 2018, benefactors provided more than 207,000 gifts to continue Mayo Clinic’s legacy of giving back.■

Philanthropy fuels the mission of Mayo Clinic. Visionary benefactors are the vital catalysts behind our pioneering patient care, breakthrough medical research and world-class educational programs.

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