Woman Making History #13: Rachel Carson


Rachel CarsonYou'll have to forgive me for the lateness and possible incoherence of this entry. I've got a miserable cold and blogging is a bit much for me right now. However, because I am committed both to the NaBloPoMo project and my own Woman Making History project, I've got to stick it out and get something up here.

Rachel Carson was a lauded biologist, writer, and environmentalist in the first half of the 20th century. She was born in 1907 in Pennsylvania, where she grew up in a small town. She graduated from Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College) in 1929, then studied at the Wood Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, then received her MA in zoology from Johns Hopkins in 1932. Carson then taught zoology at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland for several years. She hoped to get her Ph.D., but was unable to attain this goal due to financial difficulties and needing to take care of her mother after her father's death.

During the Depression, Carson wrote radio scripts for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. She supplemented this income by writing nature-related feature pieces for the Baltimore Sun. She began her long career in federal service in 1936 as a scientist and editor, and worked her way up to Editor-in-Chief of all publications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Carson also wrote lyric prose, publishing a book "Under the Sea-Wind" in 1941. In the 1950s, she followed with two "biographies of the ocean," The Sea Around Us in 1952 and The Edge of the Sea in 1955. In 1952, Carson retired from federal service to devote herself to her own writing. At this time, she and her mother moved to rural Maine. Carson also adopted the orphan son of a cousin who had died unexpectedly.

Though she wrote several more articles about the living world, and planned another book about ecology, Carson changed her focus after World War II, as she became increasingly concerned about the use of pesticides, particularly DDT. In 1962, she published Silent Spring (first serialized in The New Yorker), which challenged pesticide use and the general behavior of human kind toward the natural world. The book earned her both respect and some attacks by the chemical industry and the government. Carson stuck to her guns, however, testifying before Congress in 1963 about the need for new policies to force humans to protect the environment. In retrospect, many people credit Silent Spring with having launched the global environmental movement.

Rachel Carson died of breast cancer in 1964, at the age of 56. In 1980, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her environmental writing and activism.

Rachel Carson.org

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