Dr. Lilian Welsh was born on March 6, 1858 in Columbia, Pennsylvania. After earning a medical degree at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1889, she traveled to Switzerland to continue her medical training. At the University of Zurich, she met Mary Sherwood, who in 1892 invited Dr. Welsh to Baltimore. In 1894, Dr. Welsh was recruited to join the faculty of the Woman’s College Of Baltimore (Goucher College), which from its beginning promoted the importance of both academic rigor and physical activity. Dr. Welsh, for many years the only female full professor at the college, unified physical education, physiology, anatomy, and hygiene into a department whose courses were required of all students. At a time when women were considered physically weak, she set new standards and expectations in educating students in health and wellness in tandem with promoting exercise and sports. Her integrative approach to physical training and scientific instruction became a model for other colleges in the nation and the principles she advocated are still in practice in wellness programs on many campuses today.
In the Baltimore community, Dr. Welsh was a leader in the public health movement and an active member of civic, social and suffrage clubs. Welsh served on the board of the Evening Dispensary for Working Women and Girls in Baltimore City. The dispensary was also key in providing women physicians with more training. At the turn of the century, Dr. Welsh joined a commission fighting against tuberculosis and was also at the forefront of the Child Welfare Movement.
While cultural boundaries prevented her from opportunities in medical research, she was determined that her students would have those opportunities. A colleague wrote, “Her two greatest joys were in the advancement of medicine and in the development of women.” Becoming Secretary of the Baltimore Association for the Promotion of the University Education of Women in 1897, she worked to persuade Johns Hopkins University to open its graduate school to women - a goal realized in 1908.
Dr. Welsh helped plan the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) 1906 convention. Working with Mary Elizabeth Garrett and Susan B. Anthony, Dr. Welsh and Sherwood guaranteed the success of “College Evening,” and facilitated the involvement of Goucher students. On March 3, 1913, Dr. Welsh joined 100 Goucher students and national advocates for suffrage for the inaugural suffrage march in Washington D.C., the Congressional Union’s controversial and impactful parade. In 1916, Dr. Welsh became the faculty leader of Goucher College’s Equal Suffrage League chapter, inspiring many students to join the suffrage cause.
When Dr. Welsh died, the Goucher college board of trustees wrote a resolution commending “her outstanding service in the community both in her professional capacity and in her interest in the welfare of women and in her eagerness to secure for them the recognition of full opportunities and usefulness.”
Biography courtesy of the Maryland Commission for Women, 2017.
© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2017