By Diana Kenney
Women were scarcely represented in science in the late 19th century, and one of the groups determined to change that was The Woman’s Education Association (WEA) of Boston.
In 1876, the WEA funded the pioneering “women’s laboratory” at MIT, which over seven years trained more than 500 women, many of them public-school teachers, in chemistry lab-bench techniques.
Five years later, the WEA partnered with Alpheus Hyatt, director of the Boston Society of Natural History, to open a summer school in coastal Annisquam, Massachusetts, for instruction and research in biology. That school, where nearly half the students were women, was so successful that the WEA and the Society resolved to create a permanent marine laboratory.
Thus the partners, with vigorous support from Boston colleges and universities, founded the Marine Biological Laboratory in 1888, with Hyatt as the lab’s first president and the WEA donating funds as well as boats and equipment from the Annisquam school.
Women were among the MBL’s first trustees and comprised about half the enrollment in its first decade, including high-school teachers and, increasingly, candidates for higher degrees. The institution has continued to support women scientists and students. In 2019, 57 percent of the graduate and post-graduate students who studied at the MBL were women.
This article first appeared in Spring 2010 Issue of MBL Catalyst.
Learn more about the history of women at the MBL
MBLSciShoots: History of the MBL (Part II)
Photo Caption: MBL investigators and students from Bryn Mawr College, the first college in the nation to offer women graduate education through the Ph.D. Pictured left to right in this 1896 photo are: Abigail C. Dimon, MBL Zoology investigator who later published research on regeneration with future Nobel laureate Thomas Hunt Morgan; Marie L. Minor, Zoology investigator; Grace T. Clarke, MBL Embryology course student; and Ida H. Ogilvie, Embryology course student and later founder of the Geology Department at Barnard College, Columbia University.