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Welsh, Lilian (1858–1938)

Welsh, Lilian (1858–1938)

American physician and educator who promoted women's hygiene and public health through the Evening Dispensary for Working Women and Girls and the Woman's College of Baltimore (later Goucher College). Born in Columbia, Pennsylvania, on March 6, 1858; died in Columbia of encephalitis lethargica on February 23, 1938; daughter of Thomas Welsh (a merchant and later general in the army) and Annie Eunice (Young) Welsh; graduated from Columbia High School, 1873; graduated from the State Normal School of Millersville, Pennsylvania, 1875; graduated from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1889; attended the University of Zurich, 1889–90; never married.

Lilian Welsh was born in Columbia, Pennsylvania, in 1858, the fourth daughter of Annie Young Welsh and Thomas Welsh, a military man who first served in the Mexican War and then, after a stint as a merchant, rejoined the army during the Civil War. He rose to the rank of brigadier general and died of an illness contracted during the siege of Vicksburg. Lilian Welsh attended both Columbia High School and the State Normal School in Millersville, Pennsylvania, returning to her alma maters to teach after graduation in 1875. She had been principal of Columbia High School for five years when she tendered her resignation in 1886 to enter the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania. She earned her medical degree in 1889, but hoped to become a physiological chemistry teacher and pursued further studies in Zurich in expectation of this career move. However, a teaching position never opened up, which prompted her to become a physician at the State Hospital for the Insane in Norristown, Pennsylvania, in 1890.

Two years later, Welsh made another career change when she teamed up with Dr. Mary Sherwood , a friend from Zurich, to set up a private practice in Baltimore. The two women shared an interest in preventive medicine and the health of expectant mothers and babies, which became the focus of their professional lives. Although both women were qualified physicians, prejudice against women doctors prevented their practice from flourishing. Undaunted, Welsh took her fight to the Woman's College of Baltimore (later known as Goucher College) when she was appointed physician to the students and professor of physiology and hygiene in 1894. She taught personal and public health matters and promoted physical exercise for women during a time when women were considered far too delicate for either. She became a fixture at the school, noted for both her outspoken manner of teaching and her commitment to proper hygiene for girls.

Around the same time, Welsh and Sherwood took control of the Evening Dispensary for Working Women and Girls, recently founded by physicians Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead and Alice Hall . This privately held charitable organization provided women physicians the opportunity to practice medicine, and emphasized women's health in the general public. The dispensary was a leader in obstetric care, concerned with both pre-natal and post-natal care for mother and child. Among other innovations, the clinic dispensed pure milk to babies, employed the first visiting nurse in the city, and formed a social service department.

Welsh became secretary of the newly formed Baltimore Association for the Promotion of the University Education of Women in 1897, seeking to secure admission of women into graduate departments within the Johns Hopkins University. She was a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and marched in many street parades supporting the cause. She was also a charter member of Baltimore women's organizations such as the Arundell Club and the Arundell Good Government Club. She returned to her family home in Columbia, Pennsylvania, in 1935, after the death of her long-time companion Mary Sherwood, and died there three years later.


Edgerly, Lois Stiles, ed. and comp. Give Her This Day. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House, 1990.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Amy Cooper , M.A., M.S.I., Ann Arbor, Michigan

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