The Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, began in 1888 and from the beginning brought together the very best in research and teaching in laboratory biology. The MBL complemented the natural history work at the U.S. Fish Commission next door, where Wilson and many of his colleagues at the Johns Hopkins University spent some time before the MBL opened. The first MBL director, Charles Otis Whitman, had taught biology in Japan and then at Clark University before moving permanently to the University of Chicago. Whitman encouraged researchers such as Wilson to spend summers at the MBL, studying their cell linear work in different organisms and comparing notes. The upstairs offices included attractice lab benches and a place to work on one's own, while also being very close to others carrying out similar studies. Wilson clearly valued his time there.
At the MBL, Wilson began as an investigator, then became a member of the Corporation and a long-time Trustee, returning each summer, bringing his family and many students to enjoy life in their house in Woods Hole. Wilson wrote of the dedication involved to observe developing embryos through long hours as the cells divided through the night and day. He sometimes recruited his wife and eventually his daughter to help in the lab.