Winona Hazel Welch, Moss Champion

Winona H. Welch May 5, 1896-January 18, 1990
Although she was a well rounded botanist and field ecologist who taught dozens of students, Winona Welch chose to focus most of her research attention on bryophytes.

She taught general botany, ecology, morphology, anatomy, mycology, plant pathology, landscaping, spring flora and methods of teaching biology in high schools. For her research she was acknowledged as a world authority on two families of mosses–the Fontinalaceae (water mosses) and Hookeriaceae (a tropical family)–Welch spearheaded the assembly of a 40,000 specimen collection of mosses and liverworts which she referred to as her “life’s savings.” —Winona H. Welch Papers, Indiana University

When asked, “why mosses?,” she replied:

“Because I felt sorry for them… You could ask questions about trees or flowers and get answers, but not about mosses.” Thanks to her work, today there are many answers to questions about the world’s mosses.
Two Distinguished Botanists, DePauw University website

Education and Career Highlights

  • Graduated from DePauw University, 1923
  • M.A., University of Illinois, 1925
  • Ph.D., Indiana University, 1928, major in ecology
  • Assistant Professor of Botany, DePauw University, 1930
  • Professor of Botany, DePauw University, 1939-1961 (emerita thereafter)
  • Served as President of the Indiana Academy of Science (first woman), 1948-49
  • Chair of Botany & Bacteriology Department (first woman), 1956-1961
  • Transferred Truman G. Yuncker Herbarium (DPU), 135,000 specimens, to New York Botanical Garden, 1987
  • Festschrift celebrated May 5th, published in Brittonia, Vol 40(2), 1988

On joining the Purdue University faculty in 1947, Dr. Alton A. Lindsey (ESA Eminent Ecologist 1976) considered Dr. Welch one of two outstanding botanical scientists and personalities in Indiana. (Her mentor, Truman Yuncker, was the other.) He cites her early ecological research (1920s-30s) at the “beginning of the second wave” of American plant ecology and notes that she continued to teach ecology at DePauw from 1930 until she retired (Lindsey 1988).
In 1948-49, her long efforts on behalf of the Indiana Academy of Science were recognized by her elevation as its first female president. She had previously contributed academic work as well as services as secretary to the organization.

“Women may be the illogical sentimentalists some men consider them, but the Indiana Academy of Science, an august assemblage of the most profound thinkers in Hoosierdom, is inclined to believe otherwise. The Academy of Science is a predominantly masculine organization. Nevertheless, when its some 1,000 members meet Thursday at Bloomington for a three-day round of highly technical discourse on almost every subject under the sun, a woman, Dr. Winona Welch, a DePauw University botany professor, will occupy the president’s rostrum.” —Indianapolis Star magazine, October 24, 1948

After she retired in 1961, Dr. Welch continued to teach part time and maintained her role as curator of the Truman G. Yuncker Herbarium. Following the transfer of the Herbarium to New York Botanical Garden in 1987, a festschrift honoring her career was published in Brittonia; it included description of a new species, Fontinalis welchiana, named in Winona Welch’s honor (Allen 1988). Her transferred collections of the Hookeriaceae alone included more than 300 type specimens of mosses and more than 2,500 non-types (Tan 1990).
Dr. Patricia K. Holmgren, Director of the Herbarium, The New York Botanical Garden, commented at the formal presentation of the Festschrift:

In spite of three attempts she never did get the hang of retiring. At age 72, she is quoted as having said, “You’ll just have to change your mind about what people this age can do.” Meeting her today, you would have to change your mind about what people aged 92 can do. The gradual loss of her eyesight could have defeated an ordinary person. To her it has been a challenge….
You and Dr. Yuncker assembled one of the best small research herbaria in the country. Its value to the scientific community is enormous. There is no question that this is the most significant single acquisition of specimens by the Garden since 1945 when the Princeton University Herbarium came to the Garden.

Selected Contributions
1926. An ecological study of the flora of Fountain Park and portions of the adjacent territory, Jasper County, Indiana. Proc. Indiana Acad. Sci. 35: 201–212.
1927. Enumeration of the vascular flora of Jasper County, Indiana. Proc. Indiana Acad. Sci. 36: 213–220. (M.S. Thesis, Univ. of Illinois, under William Trelease and W.B. MacDougall.)
1929. A contribution to the phytoecology of southern Indiana with special reference to certain Ericaceae in a limestone area of the Bloomington Quadrangle. Proc. Indiana Acad. Sci. 38: 65–83. (Ph.D. Dissertation.)
1931. Ecological relationships of the most common mosses in a certain vicinity near Bloomington, Indiana. Proc. Indiana Acad. Sci. 40: 87–101. (With G. G. Glenn)
1932. An ecological study of the bald cypress in Indiana. Proc. Indiana Acad. Sci. 41: 207–213.
1936. The moss foray in North Carolina, June 13–15, 1936. Bryologist 39: 122–123.
1940. History of Indiana bryology. Proc. Indiana Acad. Sci. 49: 64–68.
1949. Mosses and their uses. Proc. Indiana Acad. Sci. 58: 31–46.
1950. A contribution to the bryophyte flora of Cuba. Bryologist 53: 238–243.
1951. Observations regarding scarcity of sporophytes in Bryoxiphium norvegicum. Bryologist 54: 214–215. (With S. M. Hague)
1953. Studies in Indiana bryophytes X. Proc. Indiana Acad. Sci. 62: 122–128.
1954. Studies in Indiana bryophytes XI. Proc. Indiana Acad. Sci. 63: 92–100.
1957. Mosses of Indiana, an illustrated manual. Indiana Dept. of Conservation. 478 pages.
1959. A contribution to the Jamaican moss flora. Bryologist 62: 165–179. (With H. Crum)
1960. A monograph of the Fontinalaceae. M. Nijhoff, The Hague, 357 pages.
1962. The Hookeriaceae of the United States and Canada. Bryologist 65: 1–24.
Winona H. Welch Papers, 1896-1990, MSD.1923.002, Archives of DePauw University and Indiana United Methodism
Two Distinguished Botanists Biography at DePauw University website, DePauw University: A Pictorial History, Chapter 4 DePauw Since 1941.
“Lady With a Microscope,” Prof. Winona Welch ’23, Breaks Barrier in Assuming Presidency of Indiana Academy of Science DePauw University news, from website.
Allen, B.H. 1988. Studies on the genus Fontinalis (Musci: Fontinalaceae) Brittonia 40(2): 180–187. Springer.
Goode, J. 1988. Winona H. Welch: A Biographical Sketch Brittonia 40(2): 129-132 (JSTOR)
Anderson, L.E., Bottoms, R.G., Carndall, M.B. et al. 1988. Tributes to Winona H. Welch Brittonia 40(2):135-171 (JSTOR)
Harris, R. C. 1988. The lichen collection of DePauw University assembled by Winona Welch, complete cryptogamist. Brittonia 40(2): 172–179. Springer.
Lindsey, A.A. 1988. (Remarks at Festschrift.) Brittonia 40(2): 156–158.
Tan, B.C. Winona H. Welch Herbarium of Hookeriaceae Brittonia 42(2) 125–137. Springer.
DePauw’s Dr. Welch Honored by N.Y. Botanical Garden Publication Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science, Part III Highlights.