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William Welch served as president of the National Academy of Sciences from 1913 to 1917. A pathologist and physician, he made many contributions to medical research and education. His most notable discovery was the organism, C. perfringens, which causes gas gangrene. In addition to his pathological research, he played an integral role in shaping and staffing the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Medical School and in a major reform of American medical education and licensing during the early years of the 20th century.
Welch graduated from Yale University in 1870 and earned his M.D. from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1875. In an effort to expand his education, he went to Germany to study pathology in 1876. A year later, he returned to the United States and opened a lab at Bellevue Medical College, which is part of New York University Medical School. During the formation of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Medical School Welch was asked to become the school’s first Professor of Pathology. When the hospital opened in 1884, he was the head of the Department of Pathology and the first Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. During his long career at Johns Hopkins he also founded the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health; the first public health school in the country. In 1901 he became associated with the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, where he served on numerous boards and committees.
Under the presidency of Welch, the National Academy of Sciences saw the creation of the National Research Council. This council brought together government, educational, industrial and research organizations for the incorporation of scientific research in policy, industry, and national defense.