Rachel Carson


Rachel Carson (1907 - 1964)

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

Biologist and zoologist Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring, which described the dangers of the pesticide DDT, is credited with inspiring the first Earth Day in 1970, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the launch of the global environmental movement and ecological consciousness that thrives today.  Carson did not set out to be a crusader, but her popular magazine articles and books conveyed her passion for conservation and preserving natural resources, and the public responded.

In the 1930s, Carson was hired at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries in Washington, DC as a junior aquatic biologist – one of the first two women to be hired in a position other than as a secretary. A gifted writer, Carson took on projects to engage the public with marine science and the Bureau’s work, including a weekly radio series called “Romance Under the Waters.”  Soon she was publishing her articles blending science and clear, graceful prose in the lay press.

Carson’s first article in a national magazine led to the publication of her first book in November 1941, Under the Sea-Wind. But the book was largely ignored as the country was soon plunged into war with the attack on Pearl Harbor. But in 1951, she published the critically acclaimed The Sea Around Us, which became a best-seller, won her the National Book Award and established Carson as a great literary talent. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, became an instant best-seller, along with the re-issue of her first book. 

With the financial security of her royalties and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, Carson resigned from the Fisheries Bureau and began to write full time. When aerial spraying of DDT killed the birds in a friend’s bird sanctuary, Carson was persuaded to begin investigating the effects of pesticides on the chain of life. Her research led to the publication in 1962 of Silent Spring, in which she described the heedless poisoning of our soil and waters, warning that the country could soon face a spring without bird song.

 While the book drew intense fire from the chemical industry, it led to a presidential panel and Congressional inquiries that resulted in the eventual ban of the use of DDT and other pesticides. Sadly, Carson did not live to see the ban or the environmental movement she inspired. She died of cancer in 1964 and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter in 1980.