Edmund Beecher Wilson was born in Geneva, Illinois, on October 19, 1856. His mother, Caroline Clarke Wilson came from New England, with a lineage back to the Mayflower, and his father, Isaac G. Wilson, served as an Illinois circuit court judge. With his father’s appointment, his parents moved to Chicago, but Wilson remained in Geneva with an aunt and uncle. This allowed him a country life, enjoying nature and developing a life-long passion for music.
Wilson taught at a local school for a year when he was sixteen, then went to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, for the year 1873-1874. From there, he moved to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in 1898.
For graduate study, Wilson went to the new Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and received his PhD in 1881 under William Keith Brooks. With his new degree, Wilson taught for a year at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, then at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a year, then at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, until 1891, when he moved to become a professor at Columbia University in New York. He remained at Columbia until he retired in 1928, and he often spent his summers at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, which opened in 1888. Along with his colleague Thomas Hunt Morgan, Wilson taught some of the leading cytologists and embryologists of the day.