Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson (May 27, 1907- April 14, 1964) is considered by many to be one of the first champions of the modern environmental movement. Born near Pittsburgh, PA she spent her youth exploring nature on the family farm, reading about the sea, and writing short stories.

Rachel Carson entered Chatham University in 1925 as an English Major, but changed her major to Biology in 1928. Upon graduation in 1929, Carson transferred to Johns Hopkins University to pursue a Master’s Degree in Marine Biology. She was working towards her Doctorate when the Great Depression hit our country and her father passed away. These developments caused Carson to abandon her educational goals and look for employment to help the family survive. In 1934, she accepted a temporary job with the US Bureau of Fisheries where she utilized her education and writing skills to analyze and report field data on fish populations, draft various educational publications for the agency, and writing copy for seven-minute educational radio spots about marine life, the oceans, and the Chesapeake Bay. In 1936, she was hired to a full-time position with the Bureau of Fisheries. At the time, Carson was the second woman to be hired by the Bureau of Fisheries which became known as the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1945.

Rachel Carson’s writing got the attention of some influential people, and she was invited to write a book. Her first book, entitled “Under the Sea Wind,” was published in 1941. In 1948, Rachel Carson became the Chief Editor of Publications within the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Despite the prestigious position, Carson soon left the agency to devote all her time to writing. She continued to write articles about the ocean, and formed a partnership with an editor who suggested that she compile these articles into another book, which became “The Sea Around US,” in 1951. This book became a NY Times Best Seller, and stayed on this list for nearly two years, bringing notoriety, as well as a certain amount of financial freedom. “The Sea Around Us” provided descriptions of some sea life, explained how islands were formed, how ocean currents affect our weather patterns, how changes in temperature and salinity affect sea life, and touched on subjects like climate change, melting arctic glaciers, and rising sea level.

In 1953, Rachel Carson wrote her third book about the sea entitled, “The Edge of the Sea,” which described various seaside ecosystems extending from Maine down to Florida. After writing the third book, Carson became interested in conservation, the environment, and the widespread use of pesticides. During this period, Carson interviewed numerous scientists and conducted extensive research into the use of pesticides. The result of this research was the book, “Silent Spring,” that was published in 1962. “Silent Spring” addressed the adverse effects to ecosystems brought about by the largescale use of DDT and other pesticides. The book detailed the negative effects on non-target species, weakened ecosystems that were invaded by aggressive invasive species, the development of pesticide resistance in target species, and the potential effects on humans from pesticide poisoning. Carson recommended using biotic controls instead of chemical controls when it was feasible to do so, or directing the chemical control to as small as area as possible in lieu of widespread spraying. As might be expected, “Silent Spring” resulted in a lot of controversy. Carson’s book was attacked by many of the major chemical companies, and Carson was criticized as being an uninformed amateur. Just before the book was released, Rachel Carson learned that she had breast cancer. The book, “Silent Spring,” was viewed as a wakeup call against the widespread use of pesticides. Carson was asked to speak to a Presidential and congressional inquiry about pesticide use, and she continued to champion the environmental movement until she perished from cancer in 1964. Following her death, the Environmental Defense Fund was created; one of its goals was to ban the use of DDT. This was accomplished in 1972. In 1970, the Nixon Administration created the Environmental Protection Agency to help protect people and animals from pollution. In 1980, Ms. Carson received the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously. In addition to other awards, a number of schools and parks have been named in Rachel Carson’s honor, and her family Farm in Pennsylvania as well as her home in Coleville, Maryland have been added to National Registry of Historic Landmarks.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature note for 4/3/2021