Ms. Welsh was born on October 19, 1862 in Gloucester, Massachusetts but spent most of her early life in Boothbay, Maine. After graduating as Valedictorian from Gloucester High School in the spring of 1881, she entered Wellesley College in the fall of the same year. After four years of enrollment in Wellesley’s Classical Course, Ms. Welsh graduated with a B.A. in Classical Languages in 1885.
Upon graduation Ms. Welsh taught Latin, Greek, and English at several institutions including the Young Ladies’ Institute (Windsor, CT), Clifton Springs Seminar in New York, and Livingstone Park Seminary in Rochester, New York. After a trip to Europe in the summer of 1894, Ms. Welsh returned to Windsor to become Assistant Principal at the Young Ladies’ Institute. It was there that she met the Reverend John A.R. and Elizabeth Rogers and learned about Berea College. In 1902 President William Goodell Frost invited Ms. Welsh to teach at Berea College.
When she arrived at Berea in 1902, Ms. Welsh became the first female college staff member as well as the first instructor to offer Art History and Art Appreciation courses. She also taught Greek, Latin, German and French courses. In 1909 she studied German at the Harvard University summer school and in 1910 at the University of Marburg, Germany. It was there that she saw the German Passion Play Oberammergau. Ms. Welsh became Dean of Berea College Women in 1918, a position she would hold until 1932. During this time Ms. Welsh continued to travel Europe extensively, using photographs, slides, and travel journals from these trips to enhance the Art courses which she continued to teach at Berea. Always one to pioneer, she utilized her enthusiasm for teaching and appreciating Art into chartering the Berea Chapter of the American Federation of Arts; she served as president of the Federation for several years. In addition to this position Ms. Welsh also held a presidential post in the Classical Association of Kentucky and was a charter member of the Kentucky Association of Deans of Women. She was a member of Berea’s Union Church throughout her college career.
Welsh retired from Berea College in 1932 to her home on Sawyer’s Island near Boothbay, Maine. She spent time each summer visiting her fellow Berea College Dean of Women and close friend, Katharine Bowersox. In her dedication in the Berea Alumnus upon Mary Welsh's retirement Ms. Bowersox wrote: “She was one of the early workers who touched the hands of the founders and shared their devotion and sacrifice. Miss Welsh brought qualities that Berea needed in the days when teachers were all too few.” Ms. Welsh brought with her to the then somewhat rugged area a New Englander’s vigor and sense of adventure and is regarded as a pioneer in the early days of Berea College’s struggle to achieve identity as a liberal arts college; she emphasized knowledge and appreciation for the Arts, and strove to “make beauty known and loved” throughout the college campus. In 1950 Berea College conferred on Ms. Welsh, in absentia, an honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities. She died in Boothbay on April 22, 1955.
Restrictions: Records can be accessed through the Reading Room, Berea College Special Collections and Archives, Hutchins Library, Berea College.
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Preferred Citation: [Item/Folder/Box], Mary Elizabeth Welsh Papers, Special Collections & Archives, Berea College, Berea, KY.