History of Woods Hole Science Institutions Intertwined Since Beginnings

Jul 1, 2013

Over the years, MBL research and education may have looked more like leisure. Dr. Gerald Weissmann says that's part of what makes MBL so successful.
Credit MBL/WHOI Archives

Both the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Children's School of Science are celebrating major anniversaries this year - MBL's 125th and the School of Science's centennial. As it turns out, the two events are far from unrelated.

MBL got its start as a school of science for high school teachers, then morphed into the combined research and education "summer camp" that claims affiliations with 51 Nobel Laureates - an average of nearly one every other year! MBL is, of course, far more than a summer camp for scientists; the institution is now home to world-class research year-round. But it's that fun, informal air that Dr. Gerald Weissmann, Professor Emeritus at NYU and a long-time MBL affiliate, says makes MBL so productive.

But back to the beginnings ...

Twenty five years after the official founding of MBL, the wives of MBL researchers were among the founders of the Children's School of Science (the names Lillie and Crane will be familiar to any who have wandered the MBL campus).

In fact, the prominent role of women in both institutions is another intriguing point of connection. As Weissmann tells it, current president and director, Dr. Joan Ruderman, is carrying on a proud tradition at MBL. He says it was Louis Agassiz's wife, not the prominent naturalist himself, who first conceived of the institution, and women are present in many of the historical photos of MBL summer science.

And it's not just MBL and Children's School of Science. The Northeast Fishery Science Center and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution also work their way into the story. MBL's first presence in Woods Hole was in buildings rented from Spencer Baird, the founder of the fisheries lab (July 2nd: We've been told this is incorrect and are working to confirm.). And the joint MBL-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Library archives are home to an invaluable collection of scientific illustrations, research notes, and recorded interviews.

Both institutions are, of course, hosting anniversary celebrations this summer: