Rachel Carson's Biography
Rachel Louise Carson
Born: May 27, 1907
in Springdale, Pennsylvania
Died: April 14, 1964
in Silver Spring, Maryland
Rachel Carson, writer, scientist, and ecologist, grew up simply in the rural river
town of Springdale, Pennsylvania. Her mother bequeathed to her a life-long love
of nature and the living world that Rachel expressed first as a writer and later
as a student of marine biology. Carson graduated from Pennsylvania College for Women
(now Chatham University) in 1929, studied at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory,
and received her MA in zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932.
She was hired by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries to write radio scripts during the
Depression and supplemented her income writing feature articles on natural history
for the Baltimore Sun. She began a fifteen-year career in the federal service as
a scientist and editor in 1936 and rose to become Editor-in-Chief of all publications
for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
She wrote pamphlets on conservation and natural resources
and edited scientific articles, but in her free time turned her government research
into lyric prose, first as an article "Undersea" (1937, for the Atlantic Monthly),
and then in a book, Under the Sea-Wind (1941). In 1952 she published her
prize-winning study of the ocean, The Sea Around Us, which was followed
by The Edge of the Sea in 1955. These books constituted a biography of
the ocean and made Carson famous as a naturalist and science writer for the public.
Carson resigned from government service in 1952 to devote herself to her writing.
She wrote several other articles designed to teach people about the wonder and beauty
of the living world, including "Help Your Child to Wonder," (1956) and "Our Ever-Changing
Shore" (1957), and planned another book on the ecology of life. Embedded within
all of Carson's writing was the view that human beings were but one part of nature
distinguished primarily by their power to alter it, in some cases irreversibly.
Disturbed by the profligate use of synthetic chemical pesticides after World War
II, Carson reluctantly changed her focus in order to warn the public about the long-term effects of misusing pesticides. In Silent Spring (1962) she challenged
the practices of agricultural scientists and the government and called for a change
in the way humankind viewed the natural world.
Carson was attacked by the chemical industry and some in government as an alarmist,
but courageously spoke out to remind us that we are a vulnerable part of the natural
world subject to the same damage as the rest of the ecosystem. Testifying before
Congress in 1963, Carson called for new policies to protect human health and the
environment. Rachel Carson died in 1964 after a long battle against breast cancer.
Her witness for the beauty and integrity of life continues to inspire new generations
to protect the living world and all its creatures.
Biographical entry courtesy of Carson biographer Linda Lear, © 1998 (Revised 2015), author of Rachel
Carson: Witness for Nature published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.