Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash

Rachel Louise Carson (1907-1964) was born on a family farm in Pennsylvania. Her father was an insurance salesman. As a child she loved to explore around the large farm that housed her family. She also loved to read, and began writing stories at the age of eight, and had her first story published at ten. Many of her writings focused on the natural world.

When she attended college, her original major was English, but she soon switched to biology. After she had completed college, summa cum laude, she continued her studies at Johns Hopkins University as a graduate student. She worked in a laboratory to earn money for her tuition, and eventually completed a Masters degree in zoology. She had wanted to continue her studies to earn a doctorate, but had to leave school to earn money to support her family.

Carson took a position with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, writing scripts for a radio program on aquatic life and eventually won a full-time professional position as a junior aquatic biologist. She won a contract with Simon & Schuster to write a book, Under the Sea Wind. She continued to write articles for several magazines.

In 1945 Carson came into contact with the subject of DDT, a revolutionary pesticide, but she published nothing on DDT until 1962. However, by late 1957 Carson was carefully monitoring federal proposals for widespread use of the pesticide. In 1962 Carson’s book, Silent Spring was published. This publication would launch the environmental movement. Her work received pushback from governmental agencies, but much support from the community of scientists and from the medical community who found strong connections between the pesticide and cancer. She herself was diagnosed with breast cancer just as the work was being published. She died in 1964.  She left an important legacy which would blossom in the years to come.

 Here is a clip from an American Experience film on Carson.

 Excerpt from Holy Women of History online class