Welch, William H.


Dates:           b. 1850; 1878 to Bellevue; 1885 to JHU; d. 1934

Locations:    Chair and Prof. of Pathological Anatomy and General Pathology, Bellevue Hospital Medical College (1878 1885); Head, Pathological Institute, and Prof. of Pathology, Johns Hopkins University (1885 1918); Director, Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health (1918 1926); Prof. of the History of Medicine, Hopkins; Member, Maryland State Board of Health

Training:      Sheffield Scientific School; MD College of P & S 1875; 1876 to Vienna under Klebs, Waldeyer, Heubner, and Cohnheim; under Koch in 1885

Fields:          medical

Publications: "The Interdependence of Medicine and Other Sciences," Nature 77 (23 Jan. 1908): 283 285; General Pathology of Fever; Bacteriology Surgical Lesions

SAB Involvement:  Charter SAB member; SAB 2nd president 1901; SAB Council member 1902, 1903; SAB delegate to AAAS 1905, 1908, 1909; Chair of Laboratory Section of APHA; Pres. AAPB in 1907; SAB Honorary Member 1911

Presidential Address:Distribution of Bacillus aerogenes capsulatusJ Boston Soc Med Sci. 1901 February 19; 5(7): 369–370. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2048464/

Archive Files:
See Simon Flexner's, "Biographical Sketch of Dr. William H. Welch," Science Nov. 5th, 1920; Donald Fleming, William H. Welch and the Rise of Modern Medicine (Boston:  Little, Brown & Co., 1954); Simon Flexner and James T. Flexner, William Henry Welch and the Heroic Age of American Medicine (New York:  The Viking Press, 1941); Winslow, "Some Leaders and Landmarks in the History of Microbiology," Bact. Rev. 14 (1950): 99 114; B. Cohen, "Comments on the Relation of Dr. Welch to the Rise of Microbiology in America," Bull. Hist. of Med. (1950); Clark, Pioneer Microbiologists of America (Madison:  Univ. of Wisc. Press, 1961), 94 95; Flexner, "William Henry Welch," NAS Biog. Mem. 22 (1943): 215 231; J. Bact. 28:5, 1934

     When Welch returned to America in 1878 he initially offered his pathology services to C of P & S, but was only offered a summer lectureship.  He took, instead, a position at the far less prestigious Bellevue Medical center, and was granted three small rooms to organize a laboratory.  His (unrequired) course became immensely popular, and represented the first course in microscopical pathology given in America.  It appears that Prudden left in 1885 for the job at JHU. 

     Working on bacteria as early as 1878, at Bellevue Hospital Medical College.  Was the first to identify the gas producing bacillus, name Bacillus welchii (Clostridium welchii) in his honor.  During that time, the College of Physicians and Surgeons created a pathology laboratory, and offered the directorship to Welch.  Welch, however, had his eyes set on Hopkins, which offered him the chair of General Pathology in 1885.  In an effort to keep him, Welch's colleagues at Bellevue persuaded Carnegie to build a laboratory.
     Welch accepted the chair of Pathology at Hopkins in 1884, and did work on Staphylococcus epidermidis albus, hog cholera, lobar pneumonia, diphtheria, and typhoid fever.  Welch did not offer instruction until Feb. of 1886, and even then only providing nine public lectures, offering formal instruction in pathology the next fall for graduates in medicine.  Welch was responsible for sending Flexner to the Philippines and India to study plague, and directed the studies of A.C. Abbott and G.H.F. Nuttall.  Most of Welch's publications appeared in the early 1890's, and his students in the late 1890's.

     Welch gave lectures and directed research in all aspects of key interest.  "One year it would be diphtheria, another, cholera, and then the pneumococcus and the pneumonias."  (Clark 95).

     Oddly, Welch believed that it was "better to place bacteriology with pathology or hygiene than to make it a separate department." (Cohen 1950)  As a result, bacteriology was taught as part of pathology at Hopkins.  Even more curious is the fact that he did not let Flexner take the regular course in bacteriology. 

     Welch's major research contribution in bacteriology was the isolation (1892), with Nuttall, of a previously undescribed Gram-positive, anaerobic, gas producing, capsulated, non-motile bacillus that subsequent research showed to be responsible for gas gangrene.

     Welch was the chair of the Committee of the APHA in 1899 that led to the standard methods of water analysis, and the eventual formation of the Laboratory Section.  He was a founding member of the SAB and its second president.  With regard to the AAPB, Welch was a mild opponent, but was active in recommending members once it started.

     At the 1900 meeting of the SAB, Welch presented a paper on the "Distribution of the Bacillus aerogenes capsulatus."