Figures in Mayo history: Katherine Fitzgerald, first clinical assistant and surgical reporter

February 23, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Katherine Fitzgerald with Dr. William J. Mayo around 1916

Katherine Fitzgerald with Dr. William J. Mayo around 1916


The exact date that Katherine (Kate) Fitzgerald started working at Mayo Clinic is unclear. According to Sketch of the History of Mayo Clinic and Mayo Foundation, she came to Mayo Clinic as an assistant in Dr. Sanford’s laboratory and in 1910, she was asked to “take charge of the direction of patients.” Her desk was located next to registration and as Harry Harwick wrote, “She set the pattern for courteous handling of patients at section desks.”   With the opening of the first Mayo Clinic Building in 1914, additional routing desks were necessary and six more desk girls [clinical assistants today] were hired with Kate providing supervision.


A letter, recently discovered in the archives, provides evidence of another role Kate Fitzgerald played in Mayo Clinic’s history. In the letter written by Dr. William J. Mayo on March 27, 1916, to his son-in-law Dr. Donald Balfour, Dr. Will refers to discussions that occurred at a recent general staff meeting.

“We have introduced the stenographer at the hospital to take down the operative dictation for the surgical cards. Miss [Kate] Fitzgerald comes up every morning. It works well and we will continue it. We will probably need another girl before long. She types the dictation before leaving the hospital and it gives us a chance to see and correct it at once.” This letter confirms that Kate Fitzgerald was the first surgical recorder at Mayo Clinic.

Ms. Fitzgerald continued her career at Mayo Clinic and at the time of her retirement was the receptionist in administration. She passed away in Rochester on August 30, 1968, at the age of 88.


Submitted by
Renee Ziemer
W. Bruce Fye Center for the History of Medicine

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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