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Welch, Mary Beaumont

Published onNov 08, 2021
Welch, Mary Beaumont

(July 3, 1841 – January 2, 1923)

Quick Facts

As the spouse of Iowa State’s first president, Mary took full advantage of opportunities to lecture and develop domestic economy coursework and methods for the newly established college.

Source: University Archives, Iowa State University Library

Mary Beaumont Welch was born July 3, 1841, in Lyons, New York, the daughter of Dr. H.L. Beaumont. She married George E. Dudley, professor at Michigan State Normal School, and bore two children-Winifred and George Evans, Jr. George Dudley died of typhoid fever in 1860. Adonijah Welch, the first president of Iowa State College (University), and Mary B. Welch were married on February 3, 1868. From this union came two children, Lily and Witter Welch.

Mary Beaumont graduated from the seminary at Elmira, New York, and attended the School of Maids in London to supplement her practical experiences in household management with specialized coursework. Undoubtedly due to her familiarity with household tasks, such as cooking, laundry, sewing, and child care, Mary's fellow classmates in London mistook her for a servant-in-training rather than a full-time student. She continued her domestic studies with professional experts in New York City and visited leading private cooking schools in England and along the East Coast. Through her years of study in the household arts, Mary realized that the subject of domestic economy and its various components suffered from a lack of understanding and appreciation in American society.

Mary Beaumont Dudley's first husband, George E. Dudley, was a professor at the state normal school in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Following his death, she remarried one of his colleagues, Adonijah Welch, in 1868. Adonijah had accepted an offer to become the first president of Iowa Agricultural College. Noted as a woman with a strong personality and wide culture, Mary Welch took full advantage of opportunities to lecture and develop domestic economy coursework and methods for the newly established college. She vowed to improve dietary standards and living conditions in Iowa by training college women as "proper homemakers."

In 1872 Welch began supplementing the practical labor performed by college women in kitchens with lectures on cooking. She spoke and gave practical demonstrations in the president's residence, known as South Hall, but eventually moved her work into the college kitchen in the basement of the Main Building. By 1875 she had convinced the governing board to allocate funds for a fully equipped experimental kitchen and officially established a department of "cookery and household arts," the first of its kind at any American college.

Noting that no textbooks, reference works, or "classified or systematized knowledge" existed for household instruction, Welch undertook to organize the fundamental information for the courses. She sought out recipes, food histories, information on market supply prices and quality, and details on butchering. She focused special attention on the food supplies and markets of Iowa, considering them "abundant and of excellent quality, but of limited variety."

Source: University Archives, Iowa State University Library

Welch also paid particular attention to household management, viewing it as both a practical endeavor and of great importance to the social welfare of the community and nation. Female students attended lectures on home furnishing and arrangement, water supply and drainage, labor management, health care and nursing, accounting, hospitality, etiquette, and entertaining. Using lectures, assigned readings, and essay assignments, Welch worked to expose women to as many facets of household management as possible. She hoped that through her efforts, promotion of the college's modern programs, and widespread publicity, Iowa State Agricultural College would gain recognition as a model training ground for respectable young women. In her reports to the administration, she stressed that her innovative ideas and the social importance and utility of her programs would in turn lead to appropriations and donations for new dormitories and experimental labs.

Mary Welch continued to oversee the domestic economy program until 1883. When her husband was forced from the president's office that year, she also resigned. However, she remained a committed activist for the improvement of women's household knowledge–assisting students, publishing a scientific cookbook specifically tailored for the model kitchens she had helped design, and publishing numerous essays on the early years of the college's domestic economy program in the student magazine and newspaper.

Between 1884 and 1889 Mary Welch split her time between Ames, where Adonijah Welch continued to teach psychology and sociology, and Pasadena, California, where the couple maintained a winter home. After Adonijah's death in 1889, Mary remained in Pasadena near her daughter and son-in-law, who owned a nearby ranch.

On January 2, 1923, three days after suffering a severe stroke, Mary Welch died at her home. Family and friends held a funeral in Los Angeles, and her daughter and son-in-law brought her ashes back to Ames so that she could be buried alongside her husband in the college cemetery. In 1992, Mary B. Welch was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame.

Selections of text republished with permission from the Iowa Biographical Dictionary, edited by David Hudson, Marvin Bergman, and Loren Horton. Published by the University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA. Online publication, 2009.

Selected Sources

Mary Beaumont Welch Papers, RS 12/3/11, University Archives, Iowa State University Library, Ames, IA.

"Mrs. Welch Wife of First President Dies," Alumnus 28 (February 1923), 131–32.

Earle D. Ross, The Land-Grant Idea at Iowa State College: A Centennial Trial Balance, 1858–1958 (1958)

Earle D. Ross, A History of the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (1942)

Dorothy Schwieder and Gretchen Van Houten, eds., A Sesquicentennial History of Iowa State University: Tradition and Transformation (2007).

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