Delpfine Welch Talks Activism, Art, Heroes and Literature

Students in Ms. Beckman’s, Dr. Williams’ and Ms. Wilwerding’s classes recently enjoyed a visit with Delpfine Welch, who served with Boston Female Liberation, a women’s rights activist group, from 1968-1972. Welch, the aunt of APH student Elise W. ’20, began her in-class presentations with a short history of the women’s movement — including a brief overview of the women’s suffrage movement. 

Welch shared a brief history of her upbringing in Salem and discussed her decision to enroll at Emmanuel College in Boston. According to Welch, she saw the benefits of a female-only education and chose Emmanuel College in part for the opportunity “to grow as a woman without any pressure from boys and men.

“This course made me question everything: my religion, my role as a woman. I asked myself, how do you actually get “women’s liberation?”

— Delpfine Welch 

While at Emmanuel, Welch enrolled in a course called “Comparative Cultures,” which ultimately prompted her to develop a more forward-thinking mindset. “This course made me question everything: My religion, my role as a woman, saying, “I asked myself, ‘How do you actually get women’s liberation?” said Welch, who was beginning to understand a major societal structure shift was needed to accomplish women’s liberation. 

During her time with Female Liberation, Welch helped organize consciousness raising groups, where members held discussions about women’s issues. She also managed women’s contingents, including an anti-war contingent that sent representatives to Toronto to meet with women fleeing from Vietnam. 

I was never aware my aunt was such a big role in the women’s activist movement. Early on, I knew my aunt cared about women’s rights, but never knew she had the guts and had those challenges, and facing them and being proactive about it.

— Elise W., ’20

Elise W., ’20, niece to Delpfine Welch, knew her Aunt cared about women’s rights, but didn’t realize how dedicated she was to the cause, saying, “I was never aware my aunt was such a big role in the women’s activist movement. Early on, I knew my aunt cared about women’s rights, but never knew she had the guts and had those challenges, and facing them and being proactive about it.” 

Welch also helped establish a self-defense initiative, a country-wide tour teaching women how to do TaeKwonDo. Delpfine conveyed that a strong body is important for “not just defending yourself, but changing your whole mentality. You walk down the street with your head held high, and exude an aura of strength.”

“When you hear about these huge movements, you know that there are obviously people pushing it forward, but you never imagine that you would know one of them. It was really cool to have such a prominent activist right in front of me, talking to me.”

— Bridget M., ’22

To help students better understand societal expectations of previous generations, Ms. Welch discussed the historical roles of women. Students engaged in a lively conversation about the obsolete practice of many department stores requiring women to have permission from their husbands to open up a credit card account, as well as clothing restrictions in school and the workplace — including the right to wear pants.  Welch and some of her peers deliberately dressed “gender neutral,” stopped shaving, and did not wear makeup — appealing to some, but not all students. Though Welch and her fellow activists helped open some doors for women, Welch reminded the girls that now, and in the future, “No one but you is going to [continue to] fight for these rights. It has to be you!”

“The ideas and information she shared were enlightening due to the fact that prior to this presentation I didn’t have a firm grasp upon what life as a woman was earlier in history, and the fight that they had to face.” Eve P., ‘20, said, “It’s awesome you did all of that. You paved the way for others to do the same thing.”

— Autumn A., ’20

After the presentation, students were encouraged to ask questions, share their thoughts, and in some cases, compare Welch’s activism work with their current studies and projects. In Ms. Wilwerding’s Activist Art class, students are in the final stages of creating political posters/activism prints for a social or political cause that’s important to them. Ms. Welch channeled her expertise in creating pamphlets and The Second Wave publication for Female Liberation to help review the prints, provide feedback, and offer suggestions for students to consider.

In Dr. Williams’ Activist Literature class, students engaged in a question-and-answer session, discussing the oppositions Welch faced and her reasoning for considering herself “anti-choice.” In Ms. Beckman’s Heroes, Rebels, and Saints class, Welch shared her thoughts on what makes a hero versus a saint, and reflected on her mother’s influence: “She was not just my mother, she was someone with ideas and aspirations.” While Welch and her mother initially had some tension in their relationship due to Delpfine’s shifting female ideals, Welch’s mother eventually went back to school, and both she and Delpfine graduated in the same year. 

Following Ms. Welch’s visit, students were invited to share their thoughts, takeaways and reflections, with some examples below:

“It was interesting to hear how she raised awareness for the cause and events when there was no internet or social media; they had to print leaflets and pamphlets by hand and pass them around and call people.”

— Juliette C.,  ‘20

“One part that really stood out to me was how she found this organization. She was not searching for feminist organizations, this one kind of found her by accident. She became so powerful and involved with something she never expected.”

— Angela M., ‘20

“One of the stories… she told… was in a Dojo, a [Taekwondo] class made up of mostly men. They were trying to do planks on their knuckles for as long as they could and her ultimate goal was not to fall before a man fell. I thought that her willpower in that situation was great, and empowering to others.”

— Kaitlyn F., ‘20

“She dressed and acted in a way that combated the norm to prove that women were capable of anything a man could do. They dressed to look neither feminine or masculine, making it hard for people to bias them off their looks.”

— Mikayla J., ‘20

“Her persistence and sheer feminine power radiated off her while she was speaking…  Since we are reading Activist Literature right now it was amazing to hear from a modern day activist that was able to touch so many lives.”

— Abby B., ‘20

“I found Delpfine’s story very inspiring… The fact that she got involved in such a “taboo” organization at such a young age really shows her disinterest in confining to the status quo.”

— Bella C., ‘20

“She did what most people were scared to do… I found it admirable that she was able to stay so composed throughout everything, and kept fighting despite what was happening around her.”

— Jenn B., ‘20

“By standing up for what you believe in, you never know what could happen, or how big of a change you could make.”

— Shawna K., ‘20
Delpfine Welch
Boston Female Liberation

More about Delpfine Welch:
Welch grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, and is the oldest of eight children. She graduated from Bishop Fenwick High School in 1967, then attended two years at Emmanuel College, where she withdrew in 1969 to devote her energies to the emerging women’s movement. She later returned to college and earned her Bachelor of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1978. In 1991, she received a Ph.D. in Geological Sciences from Virginia Tech. Welch was employed at SAS Institute, a privately held software company for 25 years, and retired at the end of 2017. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband.