Brethren Historical Library and Archives

Hidden Gems: Rosa Page Welch

by Haley Steinhilber, archival intern

Portrait of Rosa Page Welch- Interdenominational missions leader, lecturer, and concert soloist

Portrait of Rosa Page Welch- Interdenominational missions leader, lecturer, and concert soloist

“I enjoy loving the hate out of people.”—Rosa Page Welch1

Born into a family of Mississippi sharecroppers in 1900, Rosa Page Welch grew up immersed in the Christian faith. Her love of music was inspired by her father, who was a talented violinist and tenor in Claiborne County.2 She attended college at the Southern Christian Institute (SCI), a boarding school administrated by the Disciples of Christ, of which she remained a member for her entire life. Welch pursued her musical talents while studying at SCI and established an unwavering belief of non-violence, hope, and God’s love.3

Welch began working as a schoolteacher after college, however in the meantime she continued to study voice and piano. She relocated to Chicago in 1926 where she was able to focus exclusively on music. That summer Welch met her future husband, Ewing C. Welch, while attending church. 4

Welch’s career as an interfaith concert performer would begin in 1931. On a whim, Welch entered the soprano contest at the Chicagoland Music Festival and was awarded third place. Her name was printed in the Chicago Tribune, and the Southern Christian Institute recognized as an alumna. SCI asked her to lead singing at a student youth conference in Nebraska. Word quickly spread of Welch’s musical talent and ability to appeal to youth. She began receiving invitations to sing at a variety of religious denominations. Welch used this popularity to discuss race relations with the predominantly white crowds that came to hear her sing.5

The first time Welch crossed paths with the Church of the Brethren was in 1933 while performing at the Alden Disciple of Christ Church in Mooresville, Indiana. A Brethren woman in the audience (referred to in Welch’s memoir as Mrs. Summers), was enthralled with the concert and invited her to the house of Mr. and Mrs. Al Brightbill. 6 The Brightbills introduced Welch to Camp Mack, where she would participate in choir conferences and attend youth camps with her children. 7

Rosa Page Welch at the 1978 Annual Conference. This image appears in Gospel Messenger Aug 1978 and July 1980

Rosa Page Welch at the 1978 Annual Conference.

Welch continued to accept offers to sing at interdenominational conferences, although she often faced prejudice and segregation. On many occasions, Welch was denied accommodations—and occasionally even admission to the venues where she was performing—due to the color of her skin.8 Despite these difficulties, Welch actively spoke out about racism at her lectures or concerts and was an active member of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.9 She constantly confronted racial prejudice with patience, determination, and faith in God’s love:

As much as it hurts, as much as it imprisons my body and sometimes my mind, I am determined that it will not imprison my soul…I pray forgiveness for myself and for those who condone the system by their failure to speak out against the practice.10

While performing at an International Missionary Conference in Toronto, Welch piqued the interest of the Presbyterian Church and the Church Women United. They selected her as an “ambassador of goodwill” in 1952. She was to “sing [her] way around the world” on a tour to Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand, Burma, India, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, the Belgian Congo, Liberia, Portugal, Britain, France, etc. in an expression of peace.11 Over the course of her trip, Welch related to her audiences through the emotions evoked by her songs—and even invited others to share their songs with her. 12

Welch’s visit to Africa particularly resonated with her. One evening while she was in the Congo, Welch gazed into the audience and announced, “I am not only your sister in Christ, but I am your sister in the flesh. My ancestors came from this land, too.”13 Welch was often the first African American that the inhabitants had ever seen. They often asked her, ‘Why is it that you do not send out Negroes as missionaries? Why don’t you come and help us?’” 14

After returning to the United States, Welch confided in her friend, Anna Beahm Mow, about her lifelong desire to become a missionary in Africa. Mow recommended that Welch serve in Nigeria through the Brethren Volunteer Service. A few weeks later, Welch received a call from the Brethren Foreign Missions Secretary, J. Henry Long. He had received a letter from Mow about Welch’s interest in missionary work.15 In December of 1961, Welch landed in Nigeria to serve for two years as a schoolteacher and choir director at Waka and Kulp Bible School.16 Welch communicated with the Nigerians through a testimony of love and acceptance that surpassed language barriers.

Left to Right: Roger Ingold, Donna Forbes, Monroe Good, Rosa Page Welch- Taken in Nigeria in 1962 by Gerald Neher
Photo by Gerald Neher

Left to Right: Roger Ingold, Donna Forbes, Monroe Good, Rosa Page Welch- Taken in Nigeria in 1962

When Welch’s term of service in Nigeria ended, she continued to be active in the Brethren community. She presented at many Annual Conferences and was an active member on the Church of the Brethren General Board from 1970 to 1973. 17

Rosa Page Welch passed away on January 26, 1994 in Port Gibson, Mississippi, the place of her birth.18 Upon her return to Mississippi in 1983, she remarked at how much the area had changed since her childhood, “to have been asked to serve as the choir director of this all-white church has proved to be one of the highest honors of all of the many honors that I have received. It has made me realize how many changes have occurred and how many of my dreams have come true between the time I grew up here and my return.” 19


  1. Neta Zeller Wagner, “Thoughts of Rosa Page Welch,” Devotions, LaVerne Women’s Fellowship, February 19, 1991.
  2. “A Disciple Ambassador of Goodwill,” The Christian-Evangelist, February 6, 1957, 8. Kermon Thomasson, “She sings of a wondrous love,” Messenger, July 1980, 14.
  3. Deborah Phelps, “I have a calling…” Just Women, Summer 2009, 22. https://www.discipleshomemissions.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/DW-JW-2009-Summer-RosaPageWelch.pdf
  4. Kermon Thomasson, “She sings of a wondrous love,” Messenger, July 1980, 15.
  5. Kermon Thomasson, “She sings of a wondrous love,” Messenger, July 1980, 15.
  6. Al Brightbill became the director of arts at Bethany Theological Seminary. Compiled by Oma Lou Myers, Rosa’s Song: The Life and Ministry of Rosa Page Welch, St. Louis, MO: CBP Press, 1984, 44.
  7. Kermon Thomasson, “She sings of a wondrous love,” Messenger, July 1980, 15-16.
  8. Compiled by Oma Lou Myers, Rosa’s Song: The Life and Ministry of Rosa Page Welch, St. Louis, MO: CBP Press, 1984, 40-47, 83
  9. Compiled by Oma Lou Myers, Rosa’s Song: The Life and Ministry of Rosa Page Welch, St. Louis, MO: CBP Press, 1984, 171.
  10. Rosa Page Welch, “The Meaning of Segregation, “The Christian-Evangelist, July 21, 1948, 727-728.
  11. Compiled by Oma Lou Myers, Rosa’s Song: The Life and Ministry of Rosa Page Welch, St. Louis, MO: CBP Press, 1984, 99-127.
  12. Howard E. Royer, “Feeling the Feelings of Others,” Gospel Messenger, November 18, 1961, 13. Carolyn E. Watkins, “A Memorable Experience—“Itinerating” in Congo With Rosa Page Welch,” World Call, July-August, 1953. Rosa Page Welch, Travel Letter No. 1, September 19, 1952.
  13. Compiled by Oma Lou Myers, Rosa’s Song: The Life and Ministry of Rosa Page Welch, St. Louis, MO: CBP Press, 1984, 117.
  14. “A Disciple Ambassador of Goodwill,” The Christian-Evangelist, February 6, 1957, 9.
  15. Compiled by Oma Lou Myers, Rosa’s Song: The Life and Ministry of Rosa Page Welch, St. Louis, MO: CBP Press, 1984, 143-144.
  16. Kermon Thomasson, “She sings of a wondrous love,” Messenger, July 1980, 16.
  17. Kermon Thomasson, “She sings of a wondrous love,” Messenger, July 1980, 17.
  18. Messenger, March 1994, 3.
  19. Compiled by Oma Lou Myers, Rosa’s Song: The Life and Ministry of Rosa Page Welch, St. Louis, MO: CBP Press, 1984, 204.