Rachel Carson (1907-1964)
Writer, Scientist, Marine Biologist
Rachel Carson was born on May 27, 1907, in Springdale, PA, and grew up on her family’s 65-acre farm. There, she spent a majority of her time exploring the surrounding nature, leading her to develop a love for the natural world at a very young age. Carson was also passionate about writing and published her first piece when she was ten years old, in St. Nicholas, a children’s magazine.
In 1925, Carson began attending Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University), where she started off as an English major before switching her focus to Biology. She discovered oceanographic studies during a fellowship at the oceanographic institute in Woods Hole, MA. Carson continued her oceanographic studies at the Johns Hopkins University, receiving a scholarship to complete her graduate work in Biology and ultimately, earning a master’s degree in Zoology, in 1932.
Subsequently, on the strength of her skills in both writing and biology, Carson was hired by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries in 1936. Carson was one of only two women employed by the Bureau at a professional level. There, she created a series of radio programs and wrote brochures and other material for the public on conservation and natural resources. Carson was later promoted to Editor-in-Chief of all publications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. During this period, Carson turned her government research into lyric prose in her spare time. Her first significant piece was a 1937 article, "Undersea," which she expanded into a book, Under the Sea-Wind, published in 1941.
Carson went on to publish her second book, The Sea Around Us, in 1951. It held a spot on The New York Times bestseller list for 81 weeks and won her a National Book Award, national science writing-prize, and Guggenheim grant. As a result of the book’s success, Carson resigned from her government job and moved to Southport Island, Maine, to focus on writing. In 1955, Carson published The Edge of the Sea, which was also quite popular. Her most influential work was still to come, though: Silent Spring, published in 1962. This groundbreaking book spurred environmental consciousness across the United States and helped launch the contemporary environmental movement. Silent Spring details the harmful effects of chemical pesticides, most notably Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). It focuses on the effects pesticides have on ecosystems, while also highlighting their negative health impacts on humans, including their links to cancer.
Carson knew publishing Silent Spring would spark controversy throughout the agricultural community and create backlash from those who profit from pesticide use. As she predicted, the pesticide industry immediately attempted to discredit her and her findings, labeling her a Communist and a “hysterical woman”. Nonetheless, officials in the federal government heard Carson’s message and arranged for a complete review of its pesticide policy. In 1963, Carson was asked to testify in front of a Congressional committee and as a result, a ban was placed on DDT in the United States.
Tragically, Carson died of breast cancer at age 57, only two years after the publication of Silent Spring. Even decades after her untimely death, Carson’s work remains incredibly impactful. To this day, she has inspired people across the United States and the world to care about the environment and work to preserve it. A hallmark of her legacy is the Environmental Protection Agency, created in 1970. Carson was posthumously given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980. The Fish and Wildlife Service also named one of its refuges near Carson’s summer home on the coast of Maine, the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, and her home in Maryland is now a national historic landmark.
Carson, Rachel, and Bob Hines. Under the Sea Wind, NY: Simon and Schuster,1941.
Carson, Rachel L. The Sea Around Us, NY: Oxford University Press,1951.
Carson, Rachel. The Edge of the Sea. New York: New American Library, 1955.
Carson, Rachel L. Silent Spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962.
FWS.gov. “Rachel Carson (1907-1964) Author of The Modern Environmental Movement.” | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, n.d. https://www.fws.gov/staff-profile/rachel-carson-1907-1964-author-modern-environmental-movement.
Michals, Debra. "Rachel Carson." National Women's History Museum, 2015.
“Rachel Carson Biography.” Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU Munich, n.d. https://www.carsoncenter.uni-muenchen.de/about_rcc/archive/mission/rachel_carson_bio/index.html
“Rachel Carson.” Chatham University, n.d. https://chatham.edu/mission-and-values/sustainability/rachel-carson.html.
Carson, Rachel. “Statement before Congress - June 4, 1963.” Archives of Women’s Political Communication, January 9, 2018. https://awpc.cattcenter.iastate.edu/2018/01/09/statement-before-congress-june-4-1963.
Carson, Rachel. “Address to the Women’s National Press Club - Dec. 5, 1962.” Archives of Women’s Political Communication, January 8, 2018. https://awpc.cattcenter.iastate.edu/2018/01/08/address-to-the-womens-national-press-club-dec-4-1962/.
Carson, Rachel. “Exceeding Beauty of the Earth - April 21, 1954.” Archives of Women’s Political Communication. https://awpc.cattcenter.iastate.edu/2018/01/09/exceeding-beauty-of-the-earth-april-21-1954/.
Carson, Rachel. “‘Battle in the Clouds’ in St. Nicholas Magazine.” Yale University Library.