In the Lab and Out Collecting (an excuse for great fun)

An exhibit celebrating the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Marine Biological Laboratory.
Photos from the Museum collection.

In 1880 the Women’s Educational Association in Boston and The Boston Society of Natural History set up a seaside laboratory in Annisquam, Massachusetts. The Curator of the Society, Alpheus Hyatt, was named director. In 1886 Annisquam was closed and Hyatt began a search for a better location for collecting sea life.

Hyatt visited his friend Spencer Baird, Director of the U.S. Fish Commission, who convinced him that Woods Hole would be the ideal spot. Baird had established the Fish Commission here because of the pure water and abundant marine life. He was interested in expanding the research community and encouraged Hyatt to purchase land near the Fisheries.

In the meantime the Educational Association and the Society of Natural History had raised $10,000 and so the Marine Biological laboratory was incorporated in 1888. Scientists, researchers and students from many different universities and institutions came during the summer to gather specimens in local waters and do laboratory research.

C.O. Whitman, who in 1888 was associated with Clark University (Worcester, Massachusetts) and later on with the University of Chicago, was named the first director. Whitman’s vision for the lab was to make it a national institution and a cooperative enterprise of American biologists. Additional members were added to the board from various universities and a number of biologists as well.

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About the MBL Images in the Museum Collection

Over the years the Museum Archives has been given or loaned many wonderful images from the personal collections of those who either did research at the MBL, worked there or spent summers here. Many of these images are from the years 1912 through the 1920s. Julian Scott took a wonderful series of portraits of major MBL scientists from 1912 to 1920. Julian was a pathologist as well as a photographer. He was called “Wireless” because he wore a hearing aid. He made a paper album of his candid portraits of prominent scientists and listed them with their academic affiliations under the heading “Photographs of Habituees of Wood’s Hole—1912-1920.”

In the late 1990s when the Museum Archives was beginning to digitize its photo collection, we were offered the opportunity to digitize a wonderful family album belonging to the Hibbard-Romer family. The family kept the original but we were given the right to use the images. In addition the family did give us their canoe, featured in many of these photos – the RHAMPHORYNCUS – which you may see hanging on the far wall in our Small Boat Barn. Over the years we have wanted to have an excuse to display the Hibbard-Romer images, since they show summer investigators having so much fun!

More recently we were given a number of original photos by Michael D. Fisher. They include some more fun photos as well as some serious images of laboratory work.

Other images come from the accumulated donations given to the Archives during our almost 40 years as a historical repository. We hope that you enjoy them, although they show a very limited time period and an incomplete view of the MBL. There are a few images which came from the MBL Archives rather than our own; these had been loaned for earlier exhibits and became part of our digital collection.

The earliest images mostly come from the lens of Boston photographer Baldwin Coolidge (1845-1920), who was hired by the MBL in the 1890s to take the annual summer class photos. Coolidge also took many photos of Woods Hole while he was here.

Notes about Canoeing and Clothing

Canoeing. Canoeing was a major fad in the 1920s. MBL scientists, investigators, researchers and students brought their own canoes to Woods Hole and enjoyed the local waters, making trips to the Elizabeth Islands, such as Naushon. Getting across the unpredictable Woods Hole Passage with its swift currents must have been a thrill and a challenge.

Clothing. Women in the 1890s typically wore long skirts (often black) with white blouses, all over layers of undergarments, no matter whether it was summer or not. When they went collecting, they tucked their skirts up in some manner. Bathing suits were also worn: a knee-length dress garment over bloomers and long black stockings.

Notice that from 1916 to the 1920s middy blouses (sailor-style) were popular attire for women out of the lab, along with bloomers (also called knickers) and canvas sneakers (sold by Mrs. Snow’s Dry Goods store on Water Street). Women’s bathing suits were still more or less knee-length and black. Some wore black stockings as well. Still, the picnic participants and canoe-paddlers managed to have a lot of fun!