Heritage Highlight: Back-to-school shopping with the Mayo brothers

A fictitious exchange between the Mayo brothers and their father in a brochure produced by J.C. Penney after World War II.

The Mayo brothers were once featured in a brochure J.C. Penney distributed shortly after World War II as part of a back-to-school promotion. However, not all facts presented surrounding the Mayos represented reality.

Pencils, notebooks, crayons, new shoes ...

Depending on where you live, back-to-school shopping may be high on your agenda these days. Or maybe you’ve already sent your kids off to the first day of school.

Either way, you've surely had your fill of back-to-school promotions. But probably none like one from the Mayo Clinic archives.

The Mayo brothers were once featured in a child-friendly brochure highlighting history and current events as a promotion for back-to-school shopping.

History in comics

The brochure was created by J.C. Penney shortly after World War II. Written in a comic book style, "48 Famous Americans" featured well-known names, including the Mayo brothers and others associated with Mayo Clinic.

The colorful 98-page booklet is 7.5 inches tall and 5 inches wide. It was distributed in stores during back-to-school sales and included with mail-order delivery of school clothes and other items customers selected from the J.C. Penney catalog.

The booklet spoke directly to students with these words of encouragement:

"You young people are the foundation of our country’s future — you will be the scientists, the scholars, historians, heroes and presidents of the years to come."

In choosing 48 Americans, the publication nodded to the number of states at that time — Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the Union in 1959.

Fact and fiction

Perhaps appropriate for the comic book genre, the Mayo story the brochure depicted was a blend of fact and fiction.

The introduction rang true.

"They had taken an oath to heal the sick and benefit humanity — and Doctors Charles and Will Mayo kept their pledge!"

However, the birth date for William J. Mayo, M.D. — stated as 1869 in the comic — is wrong. Dr. Will was born in 1861.

The illustrator took considerable artistic liberty by depicting William Worrall Mayo, M.D. — father of Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie — with a flowing white beard, unlike his photos in the Mayo Clinic historical collection.

A major error occurred in attributing the origin of Saint Marys Hospital — as the facility was referred to at the time — to the Mayo brothers.

"Dad, what this town needs is a hospital!" says Dr. Will in the comic.

But it was Mother Alfred Moes, founder of the Sisters of St. Francis, who initiated the idea.

This panel is incorrect. The idea to build a hospital originated with Mother Alfred Moes, founder of the Sisters of St. Francis, after a devastating tornado struck Rochester.

The biography ends on an accurate note with this editorial comment:

"Both Mayo brothers died in 1939, but they left behind them a living monument to their wisdom and love of humanity!"

This panel provides an accurate description of when the Mayo brothers died and their legacy to humanity.

Other Mayo connections

Many of the other leaders included in this brochure had connections to Mayo Clinic, including athletes Lou Gehrig and Jack Dempsey, humanitarian Helen Keller, industrialist Henry Ford, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Mass-produced for the 1947 school year, the copy of the brochure featured in this article was found by Donna Hanson, a former Mayo Clinic staff member and collector of Mayo memorabilia, at a flea market in the 1980s. After her passing, Hanson's family donated it to Mayo Clinic.