|Rachel Louise Carson|
Rachel Carson, 1940
Fish & Wildlife Service employee photo
May 27, 1907|
April 14, 1964 (aged 56)|
Silver Spring, Maryland
|Occupation||marine biologist, writer|
|Subjects||marine biology, ecology, pesticides|
|Notable work(s)||Silent Spring|
Silent Spring began with a “fable for tomorrow” – a true story using a composite of examples drawn from many real communities where the use of DDT had caused damage to wildlife, birds, bees, agricultural animals, domestic pets, and even humans. Carson used it as an introduction to a very scientifically complicated and already controversial subject. This “fable” made an indelible impression on readers and was used by critics to charge that Carson was a fiction writer and not a scientist.
Serialized in three parts in The New Yorker, where President John F. Kennedy read it in the summer of 1962, Silent Spring was published in August and became an instant best-seller and the most talked about book in decades. Utilizing her many sources in federal science and in private research, Carson spent over six years documenting her analysis that humans were misusing powerful, persistent, chemical pesticides before knowing the full extent of their potential harm to the whole biota.
Carson’s passionate concern in Silent Spring is with the future of the planet and all life on Earth. She calls for humans to act responsibly, carefully, and as stewards of the living earth.
Additionally Silent Spring suggested a needed change in how democracies and liberal societies operated so that individuals and groups could question what their governments allowed others to put into the environment. Far from calling for sweeping changes in government policy, Carson believed the federal government was part of the problem. She admonished her readers and audiences to ask “Who Speaks, And Why?” and therein to set the seeds of social revolution. She identified human hubris and financial self-interest as the crux of the problem and asked if we could master ourselves and our appetites to live as though we humans are an equal part of the earth’s systems and not the master of them.
Carson expected criticism, but she did not expect to be personally vilified by the chemical industry and its allies in and out of government. She spent her last years courageously defending the truth of her conclusions until her untimely death in 1964.
Silent Spring inspired the modern environmental movement, which began in earnest a decade later. It is recognized as the environmental text that “changed the world.” She aimed at igniting a democratic activist movement that would not only question the direction of science and technology but would also demand answers and accountability. Rachel Carson was a prophetic voice and her “witness for nature” is even more relevant and needed if our planet is to survive into a 22nd century.
Author: Rachel Carson
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company; Anniversary edition (October 22, 2002)
Originally Published: September 27, 1962
Rachel Louise Carson (born May 27, 1907 – died April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist and nature writer. Carson worked for 15 years as a biologist, scientist and editor in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and then the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Her books were very important in helping the environmental movement grow. She was famous for writing Silent Spring. She also wrote a set of three books about the ocean and what lives in and around it.
Silent Spring caught the attention of many Americans. Before this not many worried about environmental problems and conservation. The book looked at problems with DDT and other pesticides (chemicals that kill pests, like mosquitoes and flies). It was thought these pesticides were safe, but they were actually causing many birds to die. DDT stayed in insects and fish which were eaten by birds. The birds then laid eggs with thin shells that would break. Some birds, like the Bald Eagle almost disappeared from the United States. In her book Carson said that without changes in how we use pesticides, there may not be birds left at some time in the future. Instead of hearing birds sing in the spring, it would be quiet, and that is how the book got its title.
This book led to a change in the national pesticide policy and a ban on DDT and some other pesticides. This new grassroots environmental movement, inspired by the book, led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. After her death, Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter. There is a National Wildlife Refuge in Maine named after her.
Life and work[change | change source]
Early life and education[change | change source]
Rachel Carson was born on May 27, 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania and grew up on a family farm. It was on the Allegheny River, near Pittsburgh. Carson liked to read, and was a talented writer from an young age. She also spent a lot of time exploring around her 65-acre (26 ha) farm. She began writing stories (often with animals in them) at age eight, and had her first story published at age eleven. She liked to read the St. Nicholas Magazine, which published her first stories. It also published stories by Beatrix Potter, and the books of Gene Stratton Porter, Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad and Robert Louis Stevenson. The natural world, particularly the ocean, was a common part of her favorite books. Carson graduated high school in 1925, at the top of her class of forty-four students.
At the Pennsylvania College for Women (now known as Chatham University), as in high school, Carson was a bit of a loner. She originally studied English, but switched her major to biology in January 1928. She continued writing in the school's student newspaper. Though accepted to graduate school at Johns Hopkins University in 1928, she had to remain at the Pennsylvania College for Women for her senior year because of money problems. She graduated magna cum laude (highest honors) in 1929. After a summer course at the Marine Biological Laboratory, she continued her studies in zoology and genetics at Johns Hopkins in the fall of 1929.
After her first year of graduate school, Carson worked in a laboratory with rats and Drosophila, to earn money for tuition. She wrote her dissertation for her master's degree on how the pronephros in fish developed early in their life. She earned a master's degree in zoology in June 1932. She wanted to continue for a doctorate, but in 1934 Carson had to leave Johns Hopkins to find a full-time teaching job to help support her family. In 1935, her father died suddenly, and Carson had to take care of her aging mother. This made the money problem even bigger (this was during the Great Depression, when jobs were hard to find).
Working as a biologist[change | change source]
Her biology mentor from college helped her get a part-time job with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. Here she wrote for a educational broadcast called Romance Under the Waters on the radio (this was before television). It was a seven-minute program that ran once a week for a year. It was about aquatic life (mostly fish), to increase public interest in fish biology and in what the Bureau of Fisheries did. This was a job several people before Carson had not been able to do. Carson also began submitting articles on marine life in the Chesapeake Bay to local newspapers and magazines.
Carson's boss liked what she did, and asked her to write the introduction to a public brochure about the fisheries bureau. He also had her apply to the first full-time job that became available. When she took the civil service exam, she outscored all other applicants. In 1936 she became only the second woman to be hired by the Bureau of Fisheries for a full-time, professional position, as a junior aquatic biologist. Carson worked for 15 years in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and then the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
[change | change source]
Her 1951 bestselling book The Sea Around Us allowed her to work full-time as a nature writer. People recognized her as a gifted writer. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the republished version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. Together, the three books explore all parts of ocean life, from the shores to the surface to the deep sea.
In the late 1950s, Carson became interested in conservation and the environmental problems caused by new pesticides. At first, she did not want to write about it, but nobody else would write about the problems of pesticides. So she studied the problem, and wrote Silent Spring (published in 1962).
Death[change | change source]
References[change | change source]
- "Eagle Recovery". U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
- "Life and legacy of Rachel Carson". Linda Lear. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
- "Rachel Carson Biography". U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
- Cullen, Katherine E. 2009 Infobase Publishing Encyclopedia of Life Science page 151
- "Obituary". NY Times. Retrieved 4 May 2013.