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William H. Welch

AKA William Henry Welch

Born: 8-Apr-1850
Birthplace: Norfolk, CT
Died: 30-Apr-1934
Location of death: Baltimore, MD
Cause of death: Cancer - Prostate
Remains: Buried, Center Cemetery, Norfolk, CT

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Scientist, Administrator
Party Affiliation: Republican

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Military service: US Army Medical Corps (1917-21, Brig. Gen.)

William H. Welch was a medical researcher who discovered Clostridium perfringens, commonly called the "Welch bacillus", the cause of gas gangrene, and Staphylococcus epidermidis albus, which can cause infection around post-surgical stitches. He was hired as a professor of pathology while Johns Hopkins University was still under construction, and became the First Dean of the School of Medicine, where he left his most lasting mark. Despite his own training as a physician, he had little interest in patient care but endless fascination with research, and his leadership helped establish Johns Hopkins University, Hospital, and Medical School as a leading research institution.

Fearing that his own knowledge of bacteriology was subpar, he sailed to Germany and took a crash course from Robert Koch while Johns Hopkins was still in its planning phase. He enacted the highest admission standards, including the previously un-heard of requirement that medical school students must already be college graduates. When the Hopkins building budget grew strained, he accepted funding from Caroline Harrison and the Women's Fund Committee, in exchange for enacting the groundbreaking policy that women would be admitted on equal footing with men. He hired an old friend, the cocaine-addicted William Stewart Halsted, and resurrected Halsted's career to the point that he became one of his era's most famous surgeons. Later, after the Hopkins complex had been widely heralded as a role model for modern medical institutions, Welch convinced the Rockefeller Institute to contribute underwriting for what he considered the next necessary step, putting the hospital's medical practitioners and teachers on Hopkins' payroll.

His students at Hopkins included Simon Flexner, Walter Reed, and future Nobel laureates George H. Whipple and Peyton Rous. He was the founding editor of the Journal of Experimental Medicine, and with astronomer George Ellery Hale Welch advocated for the founding of what became the National Research Council. He also had a long association with the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, serving on various boards and committees as the Institute evolved into Rockefeller University. His father, grandfather, and four of his uncles were all physicians, and his father also served one term as a US Congressman. Welch never married, and spent the last fourteen months of his life at Johns Hopkins as a patient, where he died of cancer in 1934.

Father: William Wickham Welch (physician, b. 1818, d. 1892)
Mother: Emeline Collin Welch (b. 1822, m. 1844, d. 1850)
Mother: Emily Sedgwick Welch (stepmother, b. 1819, m. 1866, d. 1901)
Sister: Emeline Alice Welch Walcott (b. 1847, d. 1910)

    High School: Winchester Institute, Winchester, VA (1866)
    University: BS Greek Literature, Yale University (1870)
    Scholar: Chemistry, Yale University (1871-72)
    Medical School: MD, Columbia University (1875)
    Scholar: Pathology, University of Strasbourg (1876)
    Scholar: Physiology, University of Leipzig (1876-77)
    Scholar: Pathology, University of Wroclaw (1877)
    Scholar: Neurology, University of Vienna (1877)
    Professor: Pathological Anatomy, Bellevue Hospital Medical College (1878-84)
    Professor: Pathology, Johns Hopkins University (1884-1916)
    Scholar: Bacteriology, University of Berlin (1884-85)
    Administrator: First Dean of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University (1893-98)
    Administrator: President of Science Advisory Board, Rockefeller University (1901-33)
    Administrator: Director of School of Hygiene and Public Health, Johns Hopkins University (1916-26)
    Administrator: Director of Institute of the History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University (1929-30)

    American Association for the Advancement of Science President (1906-07)
    American Medical Association President (1910-11)
    American Red Cross Chair of Health Advicory Board (1922)
    Association of American Physicians President (1901)
    Carnegie Institution for Science Executive Committee (1909-16), Trustee (1906-34)
    Congress of American Physicians and Surgeons President (1897)
    League of Nations Health Office (1924-34)
    Milbank Memorial Fund Chairman (1922-32)
    National Academy of Sciences President (1913-16)
    National Research Council
    Society of American Bacteriologists President (1901)
    Skull and Bones Society
    US Agriculture Department Meat Inspection Commission (1906)
    Maryland State Official State Board of Health:President (1898-1922)


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