Rachel Louise Carson was an American marine biologist, conservationist and writer whose work is credited with advancing the global environmental movement.
Rachel Carson was born on May 27, 1907, on a family farm near Springdale, Pennsylvania, just up the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh. She was one of three children of Maria Frazier (McLean) and Robert Warden Carson, an insurance salesman.
After taking her bachelor's degree in biology at Pennsylvania College for Women, Carson received her master's degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1932. She taught at the University of Maryland for five years before pursuing postgraduate studies at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
In 1936 she began working for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, first writing radio scripts for a temporary project on marine life in 1935 and then working as a junior aquatic biologist. She stayed at what became known as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until 1952, the last three years as editor-in-chief of publications. During her time at the bureau, she published two books: Under the Sea-Wind (1941) and The Sea Around Us (1951), which won the National Book Award.
In 1958, Olga Owens Huckins from Duxbury, Massachusetts, wrote Carson, asking for her help. The Huckinses had a private bird sanctuary that had been destroyed when the state sprayed fuel oil and DDT to rid the area of mosquitoes. Carson had been concerned about pesticides since her work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As she searched for ways to help the Huckinses, she became alarmed at the extent of the problem and decided that she needed to act. She wrote articles and books about DDT and other toxic pesticides for Houghton Mifflin and The New Yorker. This material formed the basis for Silent Spring (1962), a scathing attack on the agricultural industry and on the medical community and related governmental agencies for their complacency. It was a controversial book, but in 1963 President John F. Kennedy's Science Advisory Committee released their findings that supported Carson's research.
In 1964, in Silver Spring, Maryland, Carson died of cancer and heart failure.
Dr. Wilhelm C. Hueper of the National Cancer Institute described Rachel Carson as "a sincere, unusually well-informed scientist possessing not only an unusual degree of social responsibility but also having the courage and ability to express and fight for her convictions and principles" (Brooks 1972, 255). On June 9, 1980, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A postage stamp was issued in her honor the following year.
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