William H. Welch

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William H. Welch
William Henry Welch 2.jpg
William Henry Welch, Brigadier General, U.S. Army (1917-1921)
Born William Henry Welch
(1850-04-08)April 8, 1850
Norfolk, Connecticut
United States
Died April 30, 1934(1934-04-30) (aged 84)
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Residence Baltimore, Maryland
Nationality United States
Education Yale University; College of Physicians & Surgeons of Columbia University
Occupation Physician; Pathologist
Known for First Dean of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and School of Public Health

William Henry Welch (April 8, 1850 – April 30, 1934) was an American physician, pathologist, bacteriologist, and medical school administrator. He was one of the "Big Four" founding professors at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.[1] (The "Big Four", often called the "Four Horsemen", were William Osler, Professor of Medicine; William Stewart Halsted, Professor of Surgery; Howard A. Kelly, Professor of Gynecology; and William H. Welch, Professor of Pathology.) He was the first dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and was also the founder of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, the first school of public health in the country. The medical school library is also named after Welch. In his lifetime he was called "the Dean of American Medicine".[2]


Born to William Wickham Welch and Emeline Collin Welch in Norfolk, Connecticut, Welch was educated at Norfolk Academy and the Winchester Institute. His father as well as a grandfather and four of his uncles were all physicians. William Henry entered Yale University in 1866, where he studied Greek and classics. He received an A.B. degree in 1870. As an undergraduate, he joined the Skull and Bones fraternity.[3]

After a short period of teaching high school students in Norwich, New York, Welch went to study medicine at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, in Manhattan. In 1875, he received his MD. In 1876 and 1877, he studied at several German laboratories to work with, among others, Julius Cohnheim. He returned to America in 1877 and opened a lab at Bellevue Medical College (now a part of New York University Medical School). In 1884, he was the first physician recruited to be a professor at the newly-forming Johns Hopkins Hospital and Medical School at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.[1] By 1886 he had sixteen graduate physicians working in his laboratory – the first postgraduate training program for physicians in the country.[1] He helped the trustees recruit the other founding physicians for the hospital – William Stewart Halsted, William Osler, and Howard Kelly. Welch became head of the Department of Pathology when the hospital opened in 1889. In 1894, he also became the first dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and in 1916, he established and led the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, the first school of public health in the country. He also established the Institute of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins in 1929.[4]

Welch continued to practice and teach pathology. He was a popular teacher. Indeed, his nickname among medical students and postgraduate trainees was "Popsy." Graduates of his training programs were highly coveted as academic physicians. Medical schools and institutes across the country vied for Welch's former students and graduate scientists to fill top posts.[1] Many of his residents went on to become highly prominent physicians, including Walter Reed, co-discoverer of the cause of yellow fever, Simon Flexner, founding director of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, and future Nobel laureates George Whipple and Peyton Rous.

Welch's research was principally in bacteriology, and he is the discoverer of the organism that causes gas gangrene. It was named Clostridium welchii in recognition of that fact, but now the organism usually is designated as Clostridium perfringens.

From 1901 to 1933 he was founding president of the Board of Scientific Directors at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. He was an instrumental reformer of medical education in the United States as well as a president of the National Academy of Sciences from 1913–1917. He also was president of the American Medical Association, the Association of American Physicians, the History of Science Society, the Congress of American Physicians & Surgeons, the Society of American Bacteriologists, and the Maryland State Board of Health. Welch was a founding editor of the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Welch served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during World War I, and remained in the Reserve Corps for three years thereafter, attaining the rank of Brigadier General (07). For his service during the War, Welch received the Distinguished Service Medal.

A the age of eighty-four, Welch died on April 30, 1934 of prostatic adenocarcinoma at Johns Hopkins Hospital.[5]


Caricature of William Welch with his students, by Max Brödel, 1910.

The William H. Welch Medical Library at Johns Hopkins, which opened in 1929, is named for him.[6]

Welch Road, in the vicinity of Stanford University Medical Center in Stanford, California is named in his honor.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Johns Hopkins Medicine:The Four Founding Professors. Hopkinsmedicine.org. Retrieved on 2012-03-12.
  2. ^ DE. WILLIAM H. WELCH. New York Times, May 2, 1934. Retrieved on 2012-03-12.
  3. ^ William Henry Welch and the Heroic Age of American Medicine by Simon Flexner and James Thomas Flexner Johns Hopkins University Press (1993). ISBN 0801845017
  4. ^ Institute of the History of Medicine history. Welch.jhu.edu. Retrieved on 2012-03-12.
  5. ^ "Dr. William H. Welch". New York Times. May 2, 1934. Retrieved 2010-03-07. The Dean of American Medicine is dead, but will live long in the chronicles of science and philanthropy. In his time the average expectation of life in America was increased by at least twenty years, and he had a major part in that achievement. His eightieth birthday was celebrated gratefully from Baltimore to China. 
  6. ^ Welch Library:history. Welch.jhu.edu (2008-07-15). Retrieved on 2012-03-12.

Further reading[edit]