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Anecdotes from the Archive

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Spring break sure looked different back then

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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These coeds may be spending some time down at the beach, but as students of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Wood’s Holl, Mass., it’s for work rather than play.

Woods Holl students

The laboratory, featured in the July 4, 1903, Scientific American Supplement, was founded on the belief of naturalist Louis Agassiz: “nature and not books should be studied.” The institution officially opened in 1888 on the New England coast. The site was chosen for the purity of its seawater and its proximity to the Gulf Stream, whose currents brought in a variety of plants and animals to be studied from the ocean. There were also several freshwater ponds in the area where specimens could be easily attained.

Woods Holl lab

In its 16-year existence since this article had been published, the laboratory claimed some important discoveries in the field of marine biology. “One of the most notable was that of Prof. Loeb, when he found that by treating the unfertilized eggs of sea urchins with certain solutions of salt, they could be developed into normal larvae. His success in this experiment really created a new era in biology.” Other notable experiments had to do with cell lineage, physiological morphology, and insect grafting.

The article notes that students energetically searched the shores and waters for specimens using small seines, dip nets, and shovels, and that the women students “do not hesitate to search the beaches and rocks for their prey with the men.” However, from the photo it looks like propriety still required the ladies to wade in the water while wearing ankle-length skirts.

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  1. 1. Wayne Williamson 6:30 pm 04/22/2011

    Cool article…I wonder if the students went out partying at night….

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  2. 2. Mejia 4:20 am 04/23/2011

    A couple of years ago I found in an old attic a First Issue of American Scientist Magazine, looks like a 4 page newspaper and is dated Thursday, August 28, 1845. I was truly amazed by reading about our railroads and other science issues during these early days…

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  3. 3. Steve Mirsky 9:53 pm 04/27/2011

    Similar MBL photos from a few years earlier feature future iconoclastic writer Gertrude Stein, who was there to study what was there there.

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