Chronology of the

Life of William Henry Welch

(8 April 1850 - 30 April 1934)

Early Years

1850 - 1866

William Henry Welch was born on April 8, 1850 in Norfolk, Connecticut to William Wickham Welch and Emeline Collin Welch. Six months later on October 29, Emeline Welch died leaving her newly born son and three-year old daughter, Emeline Alice without a mother. While his sister was sent to live with maternal relatives, Welch was reared by his father and paternal grandmother. His father, who came from a long line of physicians, practiced medicine in Norfolk. In 1866 Welch’s father married Emily Sedgwick.


1856 - 1866


In Norfolk Welch first attended the Misses Nettleton’s School and then the Norfolk Academy. At the age of 13 he went to the Winchester Institute, a boarding school. In the spring of 1866 he completed his studies at the Winchester Institute.


Higher Education and Professional Beginnings

1866 - 1885


1866 Entered Yale University where he concentrated on Greek and the classics. The four-year curriculum offered very few courses in the sciences. Welch had no interest in becoming a physician; his primary ambition was to become a tutor of Greek. At the end of his junior year he was elected to Skull and Bones, a senior honorary fraternity.

1870 Received the A.B. degree from Yale University


1870-1871 Helped to organize a new school in Norwich, NY and taught there for an academic year. German and Cicero were among the courses he taught. At the end of the school term, he decided to follow family tradition and become a physician. He returned to Norfolk and served as an apprentice to his father.



1872 Enrolled for several months in a post-graduate course in chemistry at Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University.



1872 - 1875 Entered the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. While at Physicians and Surgeons, Welch attended a summer session at Bellevue Medical College and took a course in physical diagnosis at University Medical College. During his second year, Edward Seguin awarded Welch a microscope for the best report on nervous diseases. In his last year he won the college’s coveted thesis prize for a comprehensive study of goiter in the English, German, and French medical literature.



1875 Received the M.D. degree from College of Physicians and Surgeons



1875-1876 Served an internship at Bellevue Hospital, where Abraham Jacobi engendered his interest in the German medical sciences and Francis Delafield encouraged his study of French medicine. Delafield, a teacher of pathological anatomy, promoted the autopsy as a major source of medical knowledge. Rather than becoming a practitioner, Welch chose to become a researcher of pathological anatomy.



1876 Sailed for Europe, on April 19th, where he studied at the universities of Strasbourg, Leipzig, Breslau, Vienna, and Berlin.




May - July 1876 Studied gross anatomy with von Recklinghausen (pupil of Virchow), normal pathology with Waldeyer, physiological chemistry with Hoppe-Seyler, and heart disease with von Leyden.




Aug 1876 - Mar 1877 Enrolled in Ernst Wagner’s pathological institute; entered the physiology laboratory of Carl Ludwig; attended Rudolf Leukorts’ daily lectures in comparative anatomy.




Apr 1877 Studied physiological pathology with Julius Cohnhein, where he developed a special interest in bacteriology. He also took a course in general botany in Ferdinand Cohen’s laboratory.




Oct 26 - Dec 8 1877 Took courses on the skin taught by Hebru, courses on psychiatry and neurology by Meynert, and on embryology by Waldeyer.



New York

1878 - 1884 Taught pathological anatomy and general pathology at Bellevue Hospital Medical College. Developed the first laboratory course in pathology in America and founded the first pathological laboratory. The course became very popular, attracting medical students from other schools.



1884 Interviewed in early March by Daniel Gilman, President of the Johns Hopkins University, and offered the professorship of pathology. Finally on March 31, Welch accepted the position. The offer included another year of travel and study in Europe and funding to set up a pathological laboratory at Johns Hopkins.


Sep 1884 - Aug 1885 While in Europe, Welch studied the organization and instrumentation of the most renowned laboratories, including those of Koch, Bollinger, Kitt, von Pettenkofer, von Ziemssen, Weigert, Ludwig, Flugge, and Pasteur. There he collected cultures to take to Johns Hopkins and also purchased laboratory instruments and equipment.



Johns Hopkins


In addition to organizing the pathological laboratory, Welch was instrumental in planning the new medical school. He helped to raise funds and recruit faculty, and served as the first dean of the School of Medicine.



1884-1916 First Baxley Professor of Pathology, The Johns Hopkins University


1889-1916 First Pathologist-in-Chief, The Johns Hopkins Hospital



1893-98 First Dean, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine



1916-26 First Director, Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health



1926-29 In the latter years of his career, Welch turned his focus to the history of the health professions. He proposed an institute modeled on the Institute of the History of Medicine at the University of Leipzig.  During this time Welch was also involved in planning a new medical library, intended to serve all of the health divisions at Johns Hopkins. He embarked on a sabbatical in Europe, where he visited the University of Leipzig's Institute and several other universities, as well as libraries and booksellers. He recruited faculty for the proposed institute and acquired books for the new library. In October 1929, the Johns Hopkins University Institute of the History of Medicine and the William H. Welch Medical Library were dedicated, sharing the same building.


1928-34 Member, Advisory Board, Johns Hopkins University, Institute for Biological Research.


1929-30 First Director, The Johns Hopkins University, Institute of the History of Medicine.



Military Service, United States Army


Like many members of the Johns Hopkins faculty, Welch went to Europe with the U.S. Army Medical Corps during World War I.



1917 Commanding Major, Medical Reserve Corps, July 16.  Awarded Distinguished Service Medal


1918 Lieutenant Colonel, February 20  Colonel, July 24.   Honorable Discharge, December 31



1919 Colonel, Medical Section, Officers’ Reserve Corps, February 24



1921 Brigadier General, Officers’ Reserve Corps, December 31


Rockefeller Foundation Affiliations


Welch gave many years of service to the Rockefeller Foundation. He was instrumental in planning and developing the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research and served on various committees and boards concerned with matters of international public health. Welch also served on the Foundation’s China Medical Board, whose mission was to bring western medical education and practice to China. In 1915, Welch went to China with the China Medical Commission (a subcommittee of the China Medical Board) in order to visit hospitals and medical schools and evaluate worthy candidates for Rockefeller funding. The Commission decided to fund the Peking Union Medical College, including a reformed curriculum, new faculty, and several new buildings. In 1921, Welch returned to China with the China Medical Board to attend the dedication of the new Peking Union Medical College.



1901-33 First President of the Board of Scientific Directors, Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research



1909-14 Rockefeller Sanitary Commission



1913-15 International Health Commission



1913-18 Rockefeller Health Commission


1913-32 General Education Board


1914-28 China Medical Board

1914-15 China Medical Commission


1916-27 International Health Board



Appointments at Other Institutions


As a result of his work at Johns Hopkins and with the Rockefeller Foundation, Welch quickly became a widely-respected figure in the fields of pathology, education, and public health. He was called upon to share his expertise with a wide range of public and private institutions. The following is a selection of posts Welch held.



1896 Founding editor of the Journal of Experimental Medicine. Welch’s article on gas bacillus appeared in the first issue.



1898-1922 President, Maryland State Board of Health



1906 U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat Inspection Commission



1906-34 Trustee, Carnegie Institution of Washington



1907-34 Advisory Board, Hygienic Laboratory, U.S. Public Health Service



1913-22 Trustee, Hooper Foundation for Medical Research (University of California)



1915-31 Trustee, Peking Union Medical College



1917 Trustee, Shanghai Medical College



1921 Advisory Board, Gorgas Memorial Institute, Panama



1922 Chairman, Health Advisory Committee, American Red Cross



1922 First President of the Board, Happy Hills Convalescent Home for Children



1922-34 Advisory Committee on the Education of Sanitarians, U.S. Public Health Service


1924-34 League of Nations Health Section

1930 Trustee, American School of Damascus

1931 National Institute of Health, Health Advisory Council


Professional Associations


Welch's active involvement in numerous professional associations, reflected his diverse interests. The following list is a selection of the offices Welch held in professional associations.



1891-92 President, Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of the State of Maryland



1897 President, Congress of American Physicians and Surgeons



1897 First President, Maryland Public Health Association


1901 President, Association of American Physicians



1901 President, Society of American Bacteriologists



1906 President, American Association of Pathologists and Bacteriologists



1906-07 President, American Association for the Advancement of Science



1910-11 President, American Medical Association



1910-11 President, National Tuberculosis Association



1913-16 President, National Academy of Science



1916-19 President, American Social Hygiene Association



1920 Founding member, History of Science Society



1920 President, All-America Conference on Venereal Diseases



1923 Organizing Committee, International Committee for Mental Hygiene



1927 President, American Association of the History of Medicine


1928-34 Honorary President, American Foundation for Mental Hygiene



1930 Vice President, International Congress on Mental Hygiene


1931 President, History of Science Society


Later Years


1932 Continued to lecture, write, and take an active interest in medicine and education, with a special focus on the history of medicine. In 1932, he recalled his experiences in a documentary film entitled "Reminiscences of the Early Days of the Medical (J.H.U.) School and Some Developments of a Most Significant Period in Medical Sciences."



Feb 1933-Apr 1934 Entered the Johns Hopkins Hospital as a patient; he remained there until his death from prostate cancer on April 30, 1934.



Awards and Special Recognition

Throughout his life, and posthumously, Welch was the recipient of many awards and honors.



1911 Royal Order of the Crown of Prussia



1927 Kober Medal, American Association of Physicians



1928 On March 5 the Trustees of The Johns Hopkins University moved that the new library under construction be named the William H. Welch Medical Library



1931 Harben Medal, Royal Institute of Public Health William H. Welch Professorship in the History of Medicine