Rachel Carson collection, 1946-1964
Collection Scope and Content
This collection includes material published in periodicals (photocopies) and one article about Carson.
Rachel Louise Carson was born on May 27, 1907, on a Springdale farm in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Valley to Maria Frazier McLean and Robert Warden Carson. Her mother instilled in her a love for natural history. In 1918, St. Nicholas, a magazine for young writers, published her story, “A Battle in the Clouds,” which was set in World War I. She published several more pieces in the magazine, and her interest in writing continued to grow. Carson attended Springdale Grammar School, Springdale High School, and Parnassus High School, from which she graduated in 1925. She received a scholarship to attend Pennsylvania College for Women, and received her A.B. magna cum laude in 1929. She studied both English and biology, but was uncertain which to pursue. The summer of that same year Carson earned a fellowship at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and with the help of Mary Scott Skinker, her biology teacher in college, Carson was accepted to the graduate program in zoology at Johns Hopkins University.
In 1930 she was able to assist in the genetics lab of Dr. Raymond Pearl. Carson graduated from the program in 1932 with a degree in zoology, continuing at Johns Hopkins as a doctoral student until 1934. After the deaths of her father in 1935 and her sister in 1937, Carson and her mother became responsible for her sister’s children. Carson moved with them to Silver Spring, Maryland, where she lived for the remainder of her life. She worked as an editor of radio broadcasts for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and as a junior aquatic biologist under District Chief Elmer Higgins from 1936 to 1939. During this time she wrote columns for Baltimore Sunday Sun on topics concerning the fisheries, and her article “Undersea,” published by Atlantic Monthly in 1937, prompted Simon and Schuster to publish Under the Sea-Wind: A Naturalist’s Picture of the Ocean in 1941.
By 1946, Carson was an aquatic biologist and director of the publishing program of the Fish and Wildlife Services. She worked to establish a Nature Conservancy branch in Maine, became director of the Washington, D.C. Audubon Society, and wrote several magazine articles. After her second book, The Sea Around Us (1951), was published Carson was able to build a cottage on Southport Island, Maine. In 1955 Carson published The Edge of the Sea, a guide to identifying sea creatures found in tidal pools, marshes and shallows. After a break from writing due to family and health concerns, in 1962 Carson published her most important, groundbreaking book, Silent Spring. Documenting in detail for the first time the effects of pesticides and insecticides on the natural world, Silent Spring is widely credited with giving birth to the environmental movement in this country and around the world.
Backlash from the chemical industry lead to Congressional hearings that bore out her findings, vindicating Carson and leading to the banning of DDT. Many attribute the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act to the consciousness-raising of Silent Spring. During 1963 Carson won many awards for this effort, including the Conservationist of the Year Award, the Albert Schweitzer Medal, medals from the National Audubon Society and the American Geographic Society, and an election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Carson died of cancer and heart disease on April 14, 1964. In 1970 Secretary of the Interior Walter J. Hickel dedicated the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge in Maine and in 1980 President Carter posthumously awarded Carson the Presidential Medal of Freedom.