Rachel Carson Facts:
Known for: writing Silent Spring, motivating environmentalist movement of the late 60s and early 70s
Dates: May 27, 1907 - April 14, 1964
Occupation: writer, scientist, ecologist, environmentalist, marine biologist
Also known as: Rachel Louise Carson
Rachel Carson Biography:
Rachel Carson was born and grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. She dreamed of becoming a writer, and had her first story published in St. Nicholas when she was 10. She attended high school in Parnassas, Pennsylvania.
Carson enrolled at the Pennsylvania College for Women (which later became Chatham College). She changed her major from English after taking a required biology course. She went on to complete an M.A. at Johns Hopkins University.
During summers, Carson worked at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts, and taught at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins. In 1936, she took a job as a writer with the US Bureau of Fisheries (which later became the US Fish and Wildlife Service). Over the years she was promoted to staff biologist, and, in 1949, chief editor.
Rachel Carson's father died in 1935, and she supported and lived with her mother from that time. In 1937 her sister died, and the sister's two daughters moved in with Rachel and her mother.
Carson began writing magazine pieces about science to supplement her income. In 1941, she adapted one of those articles into a book, Under the Seawind, in which she tried to communicate the beauty and wonder of the oceans.
After the war ended, Carson had access to formerly classified scientific data about the oceans, and she worked for several years on another book. When The Sea Around Us was published in 1951, it became a bestseller -- 86 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, 39 weeks as the top seller. In 1952, she resigned from the Fish and Wildlife Service to focus on her writing.
In 1955, Carson published The Edge of the Sea. While successful -- 20 weeks on the best-seller list -- it did not do as well as her previous book.
Some of Carson's energies went into more family matters. In 1956, one of her nieces died, and Rachel adopted her niece's son. And in 1958, her mother died, leaving the son in Rachel's sole care. She never married.
In 1962, Carson's next book was published: Silent Spring. Carefully researched over 4 years, the book documented the dangers of pesticides and herbicides. She showed the long-lasting presence of toxic chemicals in water and on land and the presence of DDT even in mother's milk, as well as the threat to other creatures, especially songbirds.
After Silent Spring:
Despite a full-scale assault from the agricultural chemical industry, which called the book everything from "sinister" and "hysterical" to "bland," the public's concern was raised. President John F. Kennedy read Silent Spring and initiated a presidential advisory committee. In 1963, CBS produced a television special featuring Rachel Carson and several opponents of her conclusions. The US Senate opened an investigation of pesticides.
In 1964, Carson died of cancer in Silver Spring, Maryland. Just before she died, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. But she was not able to see the changes that her helped produce.
After her death, an essay she'd written was published in book form as Sense of Wonder.
Rachel Carson Bibliography:
• Linda Lear, ed. Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson. 1998.
• Linda Lear. Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature. 1997.
• Martha Freeman, ed. Always Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman. 1995.
• Carol Gartner. Rachel Carson. 1993.
• H. Patricia Hynes. The Recurring Silent Spring. 1989.
• Jean L. Latham. Rachel Carson Who Loved the Sea. 1973.
• Paul Brooks. The House of Life: Rachel Carson at Work. 1972.
•Philip Sterling. Sea and Earth, the Life of Rachel Carson. 1970.
• Frank Graham, Jr. Since Silent Spring. 1970.