Edith Graham, the first professionally educated nurse in the Mayo medical practice and a pioneering nurse anesthetist. She was hired by W. W. Mayo, and he trained her as an anesthetist. (She later married Dr. Charlie.) This photo is from her early nursing school days, and the back of the photo is inscribed, "Christmas unites those whom distance severs." It is dated Dec. 25, 1887. To be used in the sesquicentennial book.

Mayo Clinic Visit

Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine’s Centennial Anniversary
Weekly update: Nov. 23, 2023

Dear alumni, staff, and trainees in the Mayo Clinic Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine and friends of the department,


Thank you for your readership and welcome to Update #12.  Happy Thanksgiving!


Anesthesia in Rochester – the early years: 


Edith Graham was not the first nurse to administer anesthesia.  That honor appears to have belonged to Catherine Lawrence at the 2nd Battle of Bull Run in the American Civil War.  However, Edith started nurse anesthesia at what is now Mayo Clinic in 1889 when William Worrall Mayo (Will and Charlie’s dad) trained her to administer ether.  She was essentially the sole anesthetist for Will and Charlie until 1893, the year she married Charlie and stopped practicing as a nurse and nurse anesthetist.


I might add that Edith’s sister, Dinah, also learned to administer anesthesia in 1893 as she worked with Dr. Augustus Stinchfield, the first non-Mayo to join the St. Marys Hospital practice.  Dinah provided anesthesia for a short period of time for Augustus.  He operated only a few years and primarily left the performance of surgeries to Will and Charlie and cared for the St. Marys Hospital and Rochester patients who did not need surgery. Unfortunately, Dinah’s anesthesia efforts are not well-documented and it is not clear if she provided anesthesia for the patients of Will or Charlie or only for those of Augustus.


An excellent summary about Edith, her relatively short time as a nurse and nurse anesthetist, and her remarkable life of achievements as Mrs. Edith Graham Mayo can be found in this article by our own Darlene Bannon while she was a student in our Nurse Anesthesia Program.  This article also contains fascinating insights into the initial difficulties that William Worrall Mayo and his sons had in the first few years of St. Marys Hospital in enticing patients to be admitted.  Recall that in the 1880s and 90s, hospitals had very high mortality rates and few patients wanted to enter them.  It was the great care provided by the Franciscan nurses and the surprisingly successful surgical outcomes of the Mayos that eventually attracted patients to Rochester and St. Marys Hospital over the course of that initial decade.


Fortunately, before leaving nursing in 1893, Edith trained her Chicago nursing school classmate, Alice Magaw, who was newly arrived in Rochester.  Alice became one of the most famous nurse anesthetists of her time and Charlie fondly referred to her as the “Mother of Anesthesia.”  In 1906, she reported on her experience of more than 14,000 anesthetics without a death attributable to the anesthetic.


By 1899, Will and Charlie were performing more than 1,600 surgeries annually.  This required more than one operating room and additional people to deliver anesthesia.  In 1899, they recruited Dr. Isabella Herb to move from Chicago where she had administered more than 1,000 anesthetics.  With the move, Isabella became one of Mayo’s first women physicians.  Alice Magaw primarily provided care for the patients of Will, and Isabella took over the patients of Charlie.  Isabella left Rochester in 1904, leaving an opening.  Florence Henderson, a new nurse who had started working at St. Marys Hospital in 1903, was recruited and trained by the Mayo Brothers to give anesthesia for Charlie’s patients.  She was to give more than 13,000 anesthetics for Charlie’s patients before leaving Mayo.