Rachel Carson was an American author, zoologist, and marine biologist. She is credited with writing the book Silent Spring, which some claim launched the global environmental movement.
Rachel Louise Carson was born on May 27, 1907, at a small farm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania suburb of Springdale. When Carson was young, she spent hours learning about the world of nature around her. Her mother loved nature, and Rachel followed in her footsteps.
Rachel displayed an early ability to write and eventually attended the Pennsylvania College for Women. She switched her major from English and creative writing to biology, and graduated magna cum laude in 1929. She continued her studies at Johns Hopkins University to earn a masters degree in zoology in 1932.
Carson was hired for a part-time position at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries as a science writer of radio scripts during the depression. She also supplemented her income by writing feature articles on natural history for the Baltimore Sun. In 1936, Carson was hired for a full-time position as a junior aquatic biologist for the Bureau of Fisheries. She also continued to write radio scripts for the Bureau of Fisheries.
Carson wrote articles on conservation and edited scientific articles. In her spare time, she wrote articles on her research. She was first published in 1937 in the Atlantic Monthly. Her article was titled "Undersea."
That year, her sister died suddenly, and Carson took over the task of rearing her two nieces.
The first book
Simon & Schuster, the publishing house, was impressed by her Atlantic Monthly article and contacted her to expand it into a book. After several years of working in the evenings, Under the Sea-Wind was published in 1941. It received rave reviews from the critics, but did not fare as well with the public; it was released just a month before the raid on Pearl Harbor.
Rachel moved up the ranks within the bureau, which had been transformed into the Fish and Wildlife Service by then, and by 1949, she had become the chief editor of publications. She continued to work on a second book, and in 1952, she published The Sea Around Us. The book remained on the bestseller list for 86 weeks and won the National Book Award. Carson was awarded two honorary doctorates as a result.
With the success of her book, Carson became financially independent, and was able to quit her job in 1952 to work full time on writing. She completed the third volume of her sea trilogy in 1955 with The Edge of the Sea. It also was a bestseller, and was made into a Oscar-winning documentary film. Carson did not approve of the film, however, averring that it distorted the facts.
Carson was hit with another family tragedy when one of her nieces died at the age of 36, leaving behind her five-year-old son. Carson adopted the boy, and desiring a suitable place to rear him, bought some property in rural Maryland. The environment was a huge factor in her life, and it took her down a new path.
Carson was disturbed by the use of synthetic chemical pesticides following World War II, and changed her focus to warn the public about the long-term outcome of misusing pesticides in particular, dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT). In 1962, she published a blockbuster, Silent Spring. With it, she challenged agricultural scientists and the federal government to change the way humankind viewed the Earth.
The chemical industry and some government officials attacked Carson, who said she was an alarmist. However, she courageously stood her ground and spoke out about the damage being inflicted on the ecosystem. She testified before Congress in 1963, calling for new policies to protect the environment and human health.
Carson was diagnosed with breast cancer midway through writing Silent Spring, and her health was getting worse. She would not live to see DDT banned in the United States.*
Carson died on April 14, 1964, from cancer, owing to the DDT exposure she received during her research. She was 56 years old.
In 1980, Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, posthumously.
*December 31, 1972.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by Rachel Carson.
Regarding Science and Literature
The aim of science is to discover and illuminate truth. And that, I take it, is the aim of literature, whether biography or history or fiction. It seems to me, then, that there can be no separate literature of science.
Acceptance speech for the National Book Award for Nonfiction, 1952
Man's future welfare and probably even his survival depend upon his learning to live in harmony, rather than in combat, with these forces.
Regarding Two Roads
We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road the one less traveled by offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.
"Silent Spring", 1962