The MBL was founded as a summer institution with a dual mission: research and education (MacCord & Maienschein 2018). In 1888, this was a novelty in non-university scientific institutions, which were almost exclusively devoted to either research or teaching. In the intervening years, both aspects of the MBL’s mission have continued to grow, with hundreds of scientists coming to Woods Hole every summer, and dozens of courses offered throughout the year.
Beginning in the 1947, with Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent-Györgi’s formation of the (closed in 1972) Institute for Muscle Research, the MBL has expanded into a year-round scientific institution, with dozens of full time faculty members. In 1975, the MBL opened its first full time research center, the Ecosystems Center. Since then, two more centers, the Josephine Bay Paul Center for Comparative Molecular Biology and Evolution and the Eugene Bell Center for Regenerative Biology and Tissue Engineering, comprised of scientists, fellows, post docs, students, and research assistants, have become a year-round component of MBL life (MacCord & Maienschein 2018).
In its opening year, the MBL offered a single course: Zoology. Within five years, the selection had expanded to four courses: Botany, Embryology, Physiology, and Zoology (of which Embryology and Physiology are still taught today). Over the years, the courses have changed to meet the demands of the biological sciences, with new courses springing up and changing throughout the decades. In the early years, courses were taught by scientists who conducted research at MBL during the summer. Leading investigators like Jacques Loeb, Keith Porter, Eric Davidson, Nipam Patel, and Viktor Hamburger have directed MBL courses throughout the years.
From its inception, the MBL has been committed to not just educating groups of scientists, but to providing a place and resources for community members and the public to engage with scientific study. Public lectures from leading scientists like, Charles Otis Whitman, Thomas Hunt Morgan, Wilhelm Roux, Cornelia Clapp, and Henry Fairfield Osborn, have been offered at the MBL every year. Course lectures throughout the summer are also open to the public (MacCord & Maienschein 2018).