Notable Women of ISU: Mary B. Welch

Welch is a name with strong ties to Iowa State University. Welch Avenue is a well-known street in Campustown, and Welch Hall is a residence hall on campus. The former was likely named after ISU’s first president, Adonijah Welch, but the latter is named for his wife, Mary Beaumont Welch. Mrs. Welch is not known merely as the president’s wife, but rather as a pioneer in home economics education.

Portrait of Mary B. Welch, [date]. University Photographs, Box [#]

Portrait of Mary B. Welch, undated. University Photographs, Box 50

Mary B. Welch was born in 1841 in Lyons, New York. After the death of her first husband, George Dudley, she met and married Adonijah Welch in 1868. Shortly after, the Welches moved to Ames, Iowa, so that he could serve as Iowa State University’s (then the Iowa Agricultural College) first president. Mrs. Welch attended various institutions to prepare for her time as a domestic science instructor at Iowa State. These included Elmira Seminary in New York, the New York School of Cooking, and The National Training School for Cookery in South Kensington, London. Of her time in London, she had this to say:

“Many amusing incidents of that London experience might be told. The only object of the school there was to train cooks for service. It was incomprehensible to the English mind that a woman, apparently a lady, whose husband was, as my letters of introduction proved, at the head of an important institution of learning, should be anxious either to learn or to teach cooking. The question was often asked me what family I was engaged to work for when I received my certificate.” ~ The Alumnus, Vol. 18, No. 5 (reproduced from an earlier issue)

Photo published in The Alumnus, Vol. 8, No. 5, 1923. RS 12/3/11, Box 1, Folder 1

Photo published in The Alumnus, Vol. 8, No. 5, 1923. RS 12/3/11, Box 1, Folder 1

All of this experience in addition to self-study and other life experience played into her teaching. Mrs. Welch organized and became head of the Department of Domestic Economy in 1875, one of the first such programs in the nation. She developed a curriculum around the properties of chemistry, botany, physiology, geology, and physics that applied to domestic science.

In 1881, Mrs. Welch expanded her teaching to outside of Iowa State and taught a class to women in Des Moines. This is considered the first extension work in home economics at a land grant institution. In addition to teaching, Mrs. Welch wrote a cookbook titled Mrs. Welch’s Cookbook, along with writings that appeared in various periodicals.

Cover of Mrs. Welch's Cookbook, 1884. TX715.W441.1884

Cover of Mrs. Welch’s Cookbook, 1884. TX715.W441

After her resignation in 1883, Mrs. Welch continued to lecture to various clubs, colleges, and the YWCA. She passed away in 1923 at her home in California, leaving behind a legacy that continues today within the College of Human Sciences. In 1992, she was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame.

More information on Mary B. Welch can be found in her collection in the University Archives, and some items from that collection can be found in Digital Collections.

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