While Rachel Carson is primarily remembered
for her best selling novel Silent Spring which was
published at the end of her career,
just two years before her death, she was in all respects a
pioneer for the environmental movement.
Rachel Carson brought together a rare passion for
writing with a detailed understanding of science and produced
several books describing the sea and its life including: Under
the Sea-Wind (1941), The Sea Around Us (1951), The
Edge of the Sea (1955) and The Sense of Wonder
(posthumous, 1965) in addition to Silent Spring (1962).
Silent Spring compiled anecdotal and
scientific information on the cumulative effects of popular
insecticides and demonstrated in alarming fashion the impacts
chemicals, including DDT, which were being used to enhance
agricultural productivity by eliminating pest insects were
having on our lakes, rivers, oceans and bodies.
Rachel Carson’s work brought publicity
and credibility to an environmental movement that was in need
of both. Prior to Silent Spring the most Americans believed
that science was a force for good and should not be
Carson’s work uncovered ethical themes that continue to
dominate the tenor of environmental discussions as she
questioned the effectiveness of and called attention to the
effects of human tinkering with environmental systems.
Silent Spring was not without controversy
however as scientists from the pesticide industry openly
questioned and attempted to suppress the book and its author.
Rachel Carson’s career came at a time
when women seldom studied the sciences, and yet she pursued
science vigorously. She
withstood criticism by allowing her work to be scrutinized and
by encouraging others to review her sources.
Silent Spring is one of the best documented non-fiction
accounts ever published with nearly 55 detailing the sources
of information used to write the book.
Her writing won acclaim not only for its theme, but
also for its content as she won the prestigious John Burroughs
Medal for The Sea Around us, and was later honored with awards
by the New York Zoological Society (1954) and the National
Wildlife Federation (1963) for her work.
Many also credit Rachel Carson with helping inspire the
Environmental Protection Agency, in part as a result of her
testimony to the U.S. Senate in 1963 when she urged the
“creation of a Pesticide Commission … be considered.”
Born in Springdale Pennsylvania in 1907,
Rachel Carson was always fond of nature and wildlife, and
studied biology as an undergraduate at the Pennsylvania
College for Women at Pittsburgh (now Chatham College) where
she graduated in 1929. Following
college Rachel Carson pursued a Master of Arts degree at Johns
Hopkins and it was there she discovered her interest in the
sea through field seasons at the Wood’s Hole Marine
Receiving her Master’s degree in 1932, Rachel Carson
spent her professional career first working as a Zoology
professor at University of Maryland, and latter as an aquatic
biologist for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and its successor,
the Fish and Wildlife Service before earning enough with the
publication of The Sea Around Us to retire to writing in 1952.
Rachel Carson died a premature death as the result of
breast cancer and, although she never married and had no
children of her own, did leave an adopted son, her
grand-nephew Roger Christie.
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