Rachel Carson - by permission of the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections & Archives, Connecticut College.

Short biography:

1907

 

Born May 27, in Springdale, Pennsylvania

1928

 

Graduates magna cum laude from Pennsylvania College for Women

1932

 

Receives M.A. from John Hopkins University

1936

 

Takes a job with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries

1931

 

"Under the Sea-Wind" is publizised

1951

 

"The Sea Around Us"

1955

 

"The Edge of the Sea"

1962

 

"Silent Spring"

1964

 

Dies April 14 in Silver Spring, Maryland

Source:
Peter Matthiessen/Al Gore

Who was Rachel Carson?

Rachel Carson is regarded as the founder of the new environmentalism. Through her bestseller "Silent Spring" (1962) she showed the world the effects of man's indiscriminate use of pesticides; a silent world without birds singing, without life....This book made her famous all over the world.

She was born to write, and she always knew that. A reader and a loner, with a "sense of wonder" towards all nature. In her junior years at college, she switched her major from English to zoology. Science gave her the theme and literature provided her strong and lyrical prose.

Rachel Carson's first book, "Under the Sea-Wind" 1941), would pass almost unnoticed, partly because of the War. "The Sea Around Us" won the John Burroughs Medal and the National Book Award, and within the year sold more than 200.000 copies. Carson's new fame opened up new fora for speaking out on concerns she felt strongly about. For all her modesty and shyness, she had a mischievous streak, a sharp tongue and a genuine confidence in her own literary worth.

Attack on "Silent Spring"

Her most celebrated book is a scientifically passionate exposure of the effects of indiscriminate use of chemicals in pest-control programmes."The more I learned about the use of pesticides, the more appalled I became", Carson recalled. "I realized that here was the material for a book. What I discovered was that everything which meant most to me as a naturalist was being threatened, and that nothing I could do would be more important".

Serialized in "The New Yorker" in June 1962, "Silent Spring" caused a public outcry. And even before publication, Carson was violently assailed by threats of lawsuits and derision. Both a scientist and an idealist she was accused of being a "hysterical woman" unqualified to write such a book. By the time the book became widely awailable, the forces arrayed against her were formidable - the whole chemical industry, duly supported by the Agriculture Department, the media and even the American Medical Association weighed in on the corporate companies' side.

President Kennedy appointed a special panel to examine Carson's conclusions, and the Senate organized hearings.

Rachel Carson's warnings proved valid, and her efforts resulted in laws against DDT and global treaties to phase out 12 other pesticides.

No wonder the impact of "Silent Spring" has been compared to that of "Uncle Tom's Cabin". When Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe at the height of the Civil War, he said: "So you're the little lady who started this whole thing". Ironically, when Rachel Carson testified before Congress in 1963, Senator Abraham Ribicoff's welcome eerily echoed Lincoln's word of exactly a century before: "Miss Carson", he said, "you are the lady who started all this."

Duty to act

Carson was not a born crusader, but an intelligent and dedicated woman who rose heroically to the occasion. "The beauty of the living world I was trying to save has always been uppermost in my mind - that, and anger at the senseless, brutish things that were being done. I have felt bound by a solemn obligation to do what I could - if I didn't at least try I could never be happy again in nature. But now I can believe that I have at least helped a little. It would be unrealistic to believe one book could bring a complete change.

"Silent Spring" came as a cry in the wilderness, a deeply felt, thoroughly researched and brilliantly written argument that changed the course of history. It became a runaway bestseller with international reverberations, regarded as the classic statement which founded the new environmentalism.

Rachel Carson died of cancer, only 56 years old, in 1964.