12
Mar19

Honoring East Boston Activist Mary Ellen Welch

Posted by: Molly Brown

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Last week, East Boston activist Mary Ellen Welch passed away. Welch, whose work and legacy are preserved in the Northeastern University Library’s Archives and Special Collections, was a vibrant and prolific activist in East Boston. Her advocacy centered around civil rights, education, environmental issues, open space creation and preservation, social justice, and transportation issues.
Photo of Mary Ellen Welch, a white woman of Irish descent in black and white. She is smiling with her mouth closed and looking straight on into the camera.

Photo by Gilbert E. Friedberg, Boston Globe

Welch’s work founded and affected many facets of East Boston’s neighborhood. Since the 1960s, she advocated for East Boston residents on issues surrounding waterfront development, affordable housing, public schools, and the expansion of the Massachusetts Port Authority’s Logan International Airport. She was a former teacher at Hugh R. O’Donnell Elementary School in East Boston and served on the board of directors for Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), an organization which supports East Boston residents and communities with affordable housing strategies, environmental justice, community planning, leadership development, and economic development opportunities. She is also former head of the Friends of the East Boston Greenway and founding member of the group’s predecessor the East Boston Greenway Council. In addition, Welch worked with Airport Impact Relief, the East Boston Neighborhood Council, and the East Boston Area Planning Action Council. In 2000, Welch was awarded the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Merit Award. whitespace
Photo of Mary Ellen Welch, a white woman, pointing to a spot on what looks to be a neighborhood map. She is in a room with two other men seated watching her presentation.

Photo by Charles Dixon, Boston Globe

Welch’s friend and colleague, James Aloisi, offered a poignant tribute to Welch and her impact in Commonwealth Magazine. A portion is quoted below:
“Mary Ellen’s brand of advocacy was tough and determined but she could open her arms wide and embrace the joy in every moment that she was making a difference. She was a happy warrior in the fight for housing and mobility equity and social justice. In an interview, she summarized her approach to advocacy this way: ‘People who are activists don’t give up. Usually their activism involves something that’s deeply inbred and people are committed to principles of justice that they want to achieve. The joy of creating a better neighborhood is very satisfying. There is a joy in making where you live a happy place, a sustainable place for others.’”
You can find further records of Welch’s determined activism in the East Boston Community News, held at Northeastern’s Archives and digitized and available in Northeastern’s Digital Repository Service. The name “Mary Ellen Welch” shows up in nearly every issue, evidencing her wide array of organizing for social justice and her vital role in East Boston.  Mary Ellen Welch’s papers are housed in the Northeastern University Library’s Archives and Special Collections. You can view the finding aid here. Come visit her collection to continue to activate the gift of her records for future generations.  

Posted in: Archives and Special Collections, Community Engagement

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