The conception of an organization dedicated to biology laboratory education was conceived by Don Igelsrud prior to 1976 but was initiated by him in the autumn of 1976 when he joined the faculty at the University of Calgary. A Committee to Establish a Laboratory Biology Teaching Organization and Library was announced in a news release on September 26, 1977. That committee consisting of Igelsrud, John Glase (Cornell University), Patricia Paulus (Texas Christian University) and Ruth Von Blum (University of California at Berkeley), met for the first time in Calgary in May 1978.
Among the decisions of that 1978 planning committee was the explicit desire to have a workshop format for the conference they planned to host. ABLE meetings have been workshop-based since the very first conference was held at the University of Calgary June 4-8, 1979. The name of the organization was formally established as the Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE) by a vote at the 1979 conference and the ABLE name was used on the first Proceedings volume published in 1980.
The first ABLE conference included 13 major workshops and was attended by a total of 49 participants including 15 presenters. The officers elected at that first conference were as follows:
- President: Don Igelsrud, University of Calgary
- Vice President: Joseph Larsen, University of Illinois
- Secretary: Anna Wilson, Purdue University
- Treasurer: Rosalie Talbert, Nassau Community College
- Members at Large:
- Marcia Allen. Stanford University
- William Elliott, Hagerstown Junior College
- Eugene Kaplan, Hofstra University
- Jenny Xanthos, McGill University
- Workshop Committee: Don Fritsch, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Proceedings Editor: John Glase, Cornell University
- Laboratory Biology Teaching Library: Daniel Burke, Mercer University
- Labstracts: James Waddell, University of Maine