The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson
The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson
The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson
The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson
The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson


May 27, 1907

Rachel Carson Born

Born in Springdale Pa. along the Allegheny River, 13 miles north of Pittsburgh, PA to Maria McLean and Robert Warden Carson


Rachel Carson wins her first prize for a story published in St. Nicholas Magazine at age 11.

1921 - 1925

High School

Attends Parnassus, Pa. High School. Graduates with honor and wins scholarship to Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University) in Pittsburgh. Intends to major in English and become a teacher.

1925 - 1929

Pennsylvannia College for Women

Attends Pennsylvania College for Women, Graduates Magna Cum Laude. 1927 changed her major from English to Biology. Influenced by biology professor Mary Scott Skinker. Wins summer scholarship to the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, MA. Obtained scholarship from Johns Hopkins University for an M.A in Zoology.

1929 - 1932

Johns Hopkins

Studies at Johns Hopkins, Department of Zoology; 1931 internship with Raymond Pearl’s Institute for Biological Research, School of Hygiene and Public Health, Genetic research.

Summer 1930

teaches Zoology at Johns Hopkins Summer School with Grace Lippy.

1931 - 1932

Rachel Carson teaches at the Dental and Pharmacy School University of Maryland, College Park, Md.


MA Degree awarded. Thesis: "The Development of the Pronephyros During the Embryonic and Early Larval Life of the Catfish."

Summer 1932

US Fisheries Laboratory, Woods Hole with Grace Lippy. Intends to pursue a Ph. D. at Hopkins in Marine Biology. Lack of funds during the Great Depression forces Carson to drop out of graduate school in the spring of 1934.

July 1935

Robert Warden Carson dies at Stemmers Run, MD at age71. Rachel becomes family breadwinner.


Carson takes Federal Civil Service Exams for junior wildlife biologist and junior aquatic biologist. Hired by Elmer Higgins at the US Bureau of Fisheries in Washington, DC to write 52 short radio programs on marine life called "Romance Under the Waters." Employed as part-time features writer.


employed by Bureau of Fisheries in the Department of Commerce as a junior aquatic biologist. Begins free lance writing on the Chesapeake Bay topics for various publications including The Baltimore Sun. Her writing earns a small income.

January 1937

Marian Carson Williams dies at age 39 leaving two daughters Virginia,12 and Marjorie,11 in the care of Mrs Carson and Rachel. The family moves to a house in Silver Spring, Md.

September 1937

Carson’s article "Undersea" is published in the Atlantic Monthly


Carson works on a book which will become "Under the Sea-Wind."

June 1939

Carson promoted to Assistant Aquatic Biologist



DDT was first synthesized in 1874 but in 1939 its use as an insecticide was discovered and became the first of the modern, synthetic insecticdes.


US Fish and Wildlife Service

Government Reorganization Act places Bureau of Fisheries in the Department of Interior in Washington, DC. Bureau of Fisheries and the Biological Survey are combined to become the US Fish and Wildlife Service. By 1941 Carson officially a staff Aquatic Biologist at Interior under the leadership of Secretary Harold. L. Ickes.


Woods Hole

Carson spends leave time at the Fisheries Station at Woods Hole. Sails on the SS Phalanthrop, Bureau of Fisheries Research ship.


Bureau of Fisheries

Carson transferred to Chicago office of Bureau of Fisheries while departmental reorganization continues.

November 1941

Carson’s first book Under the Sea-Wind

Simon & Schuster publish Carson’s first book. Under the Sea-Wind. Art work is by Howard Frech, an artist Carson worked with at the Baltimore Sun. It is picked up as a selection of the Scientific Book Club, but outbreak of WWII impacts sales and the book goes out of print in 1946. Carson buys the remainder.

April 1943

Associate Aquatic Biologist

Carson promoted to Associate Aquatic Biologist and she and Maria Carson move back to Washington, living on Maple Avenue in Tacoma, Park, MD. By 1944 Carson is promoted to Aquatic Biologist and then to Information Specialist in the Information Division of FWS. Involved in policy planning for the Office of the Coordinator of Fisheries. Wartime research includes radar and sea studies. Clarence Cottam is Carson’s supervisor.


Carson continues free-lance writing and publishes several articles in popular magazines.

July 1944

Reader's Digest

proposes an article on DDT to Reader’s Digest since the research from Patuxent Wildlife Refuge comes across her desk. Reader’s Digest turns it down as too "unpleasant."


National Refuge System

Begins "Conservation in Action Series" 12 projected booklets for the USFWS to highlight the new National Refuge System. Carson travels with fellow FWS artist Shirley Brigg to Chincoteaque, and Parker River Refuges, 1946, 1947 to Mattamuskeet, and out west to Red Rock Lakes with artist Kay Howe Roberts. Includes research for Bear River. 1948.

December 1948

Mary Scott Skinker

Mary Scott Skinker Carson’s mentor and friend ill in Chicago. Carson flies out to see her. Skinker dies of cancer Dec. 19th


Shirely Briggs

With Shirley Briggs visits the Florida Everglades Refuge. She successfully goes underwater in a diving gear. Sails to the New England Bank on board the SS.Albatross III a Woods Hole Oceanographic research ship with her new literary agent Marie Rodell as companion.


Breast Cancer

Carson's confirmed breast tumor removed – no further treatment suggested.


Manuscripts for the The Sea Around Us is sold to Oxford University Press. The New Yorker agrees to publish nine chapters in three parts in the winter of 1951 as "Profiles" The first time a non-human subject has been chosen for the prestigious column.

September 1950

Yale Review

"The Birth of an Island," is published in The Yale Review.



Carson resigns from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to write full time.


Carson honored by:

  • The National Book Award for Non Fiction
  • The John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing
  • The Henry Grier Bryant Gold Medal of the Geographical Societ
  • The New York Zoological Society Gold Medal
  • Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters
  • Awarded a Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for research on the tidal coasts in preparation for her next book, The Edge of the Sea.


Roger Christie

Marjorie Williams gives birth to a son, Roger Christie.


RKO Academy Award Winner

RKO Studies releases a film version of The Sea Around Us. Carson continues her research on tidal life in Maine, the Carolinas and Florida.



Carson buys property in West Southport Island, Maine off the coast of Boothbay Harbor and builds a cottage she calls "Silverledges." Moves in to it in July. Her neighbors are Stanley and Dorothy Freeman.

December 1953

Edge of the Sea

Carson delivers her first and only academic paper "The Edge of the Sea" to the American Association for the Advancement of Science at symposium on the sea frontier.


Radiation Exposure

Japanese seamen on board the "Lucky Dragon" die of radiation exposure.


Woman's Home Companion

"Help Your Child to Wonder" is published in Woman’s Home Companion.



Sputnik I and II launched by USSR. Cold War and the imposition of humans into space, a place Carson once recarded as sacrosanct upsets her. Disturbed by the potential for evil and destruction.


Fire Ants

Fire Ant controversy with USDA spraying of pesticides in the South. An agricultural equivalent of the Atomic Bomb for agriculture. "eradication of the imported fire ant."


Dutch Elm Disease

Long Island Federal Court, testimony regarding spraying of toxic chemical pesticides in fuel oil by airplane over private land to rid Dutch elm disease and mosquitors. Robert Cushman Murphy and Marjorie Spock and Mary Richards principals.

December 1958

Maria Carson dies.


Radioactive fallout controversy


Jeanne V. Davis

Carson hires Jeanne V. Davis as her secretary and administrative assistant. Davis does research at NIH with Dorothy Algire.


Strontium 90

Baby Tooth Survey in St Louis show presence of nuclear isotope Strontium 90

December 1959

Cranberry Scare

Cranberries sprayed with tocis chemical aminotriazole before harvesting found to be linked to throat cancer in rats. USDA takes cranberries off market before Christmas. Inadequate protection an controls of chemical registration exposed. Chemical lobby pushing USDA because of financial loss

April 1960

Carson has radical mastectomy in Washington, DC.

December 1961

Silent Spring

William Shawn editor of The New Yorker calls to say he has read mss of Silent Spring and wants to run it in the spring.

August 1962

President's Science Advisory Committee

President Kennedy mentions Carson’s book at Press Conference and PSAC studying question of pesticide safety.

October 1962


Dr Frances Oldham Kelsey at FDA blocks the drug thalidomide shown to impact pre-natal development.

May 15, 1962

"The Uses of Pesticides"

President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) issues report "The Uses of Pesticides" upholding Rachel Carson’s warnings on misuse of pesticides.

July 1962

Frances Oldham Kelsey

Physician and pharmacologist at the Federal Drug Administration refuses license for US marketing of the drug Thalidomide. Thousands of babies in Europe and Canada are born without limbs. Kelsey cites drug’s effects on fetal development.

August 1962


President John F. Kennedy mentions that his President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) is taking up the question of the misuse of pesticides since Carson’s work appeared in The New Yorker.

September 27, 1962

Roland Clement

Staff biologist at National Audubon Society begins speaking and writing in Carson’s defense.


Silent Spring

Chosen as Book of the Month Club selection for October


Carson and Kelsey attend meeting of the Audubon Naturalist Society of the District of Columbia. Carson comments to the press about Kelsey’s brave stand on blocking thalidomide and compares thalidomide to DDT.


Kelsey is awarded the Distinguished Civilian Civil Service Medal for her work at the FDA by President John F. Kennedy.

December 1962

Rachel Carson delivers major address to the Women’s National Press Club.

April 3, 1963

CBS Reports with Eric Sevareid airs "The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson" on national television. A triumph for Carson over her critics. Mercury 7 Space capsule with Astronaut Gordon Cooper orbits the earth.

November 1963

Mississippi River Fish Kill

Mississippi River Fish Kill, Pesticide Endrin discovered to be the cause of death of millions of fish. Carson’s warning is validated.


Clean Air Act

Authorizes federal hearings and legal actions


Wilderness Act

Establishes the National Wilderness Preservation System

April 11, 1964

Rachel Carson dies at age 58 in Silver Spring, Md.

June 4, 1963

Senate Hearing

Carson testifies before the U.S. Senate Committee on Government Operations (Ribicoff (Sub committee). Calls for a limit to the number of pesticides in use. Two days later Carson testifies before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee.


The Sense of Wonder

The Sense of Wonder originally published as an article in 1956 is published posthumously as a book with photographs by Charles Pratt. It is dedicated "for Roger," and becomes an icon of Carson’s nature writing and of her passion for the natural world.


National Historic Preservation Act passed


Endangered Species Act

begins federal involvement in habitat preservation and rare species identification


Environmental Defense Fund

established (Roland Clement significant player)


Grand Canyon Dams defeated


First manned flight to circle the moon produces dramatic photographs of "spaceship earth"


Santa Barbara Oil Spill

dramatizes the problem of pollution.


Friends of the Earth

founded by David R Brower


Greenpeace Organized


  • National Environmental Policy Act signed January 1
  • National Resources Defense Council founded
  • Zero Population Growth founded by Paul Ehrlich and others.
  • Clean Air Act amended and strengthened

April 22, 1970

Earth Day

First Earth Day celebrated, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration founded

December 2, 1970


Founding of the Environmental Protection Agency


League of Conservation Voters organized

January 31, 1972

DDT Banned

Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act – DDT banned for use in the US. Can still be exported.


Endangered Species Act

expands federal involvement in resisting species extinction.


Love Canal

near Niagara River NY revealed to be the site of buried chemical wastes endangering health of local residents.


Three Mile Island

(Pennsylvania) nuclear generating plant narrowly avoids meltdown and widespread radioactive pollution.


Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act protects nongame species


Earth First organized


Chernobyl Russia disaster pollutes large area of norther Europe.


drought conditions attributed to the greenhouse effect alarm Americans about global climate change


Exxon Valdez oil spill

Massive oil spill in Prince William Sound Arouses national indignation.

October 1993

PBS/American Experience Film airs on TV. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a documentary for WGBH/Boston. Produced by Peace River Films, and directed by Neil Goodwin.


Our Stolen Future

Theo Colborn publishes Our Stolen Future, warning of the impact of hormone disruption in birds, fish, wildlife and humans. Book is acclaimed as a worthy successor to Silent Spring and subjected to the same criticism.

September 1997

Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature, by Linda Lear published by Henry Holt & Co. Wins prize for the Best Book on Women in Science.

June 1998

Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson. Edited by Linda Lear, published by Beacon Press.

May 26, 1998

www. website first posted on the internet

August 15, 2000

New Webmaster

Mike Friscia takes over web management for, works with Linda Lear to provide an online resource for Rachel Carson's legacy.

October 2008

Linda Lear Center

Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives opens at Connecticut College, New London, Ct. Lear gives all her Rachel Carson Papers and collections. Open for research.

December 2014

Theo Colborn

dies. Hormone disruption now considered a major human and non human impact from exposure to synthetic organic chemicals like DDT.

March 14, 2015

Roland Clement

Carson’s major defender at National Audubon and lifelong conservationist, philosopher, and wildlife biologist dies at 102.

August 7, 2015

Frances Oldham Kelsey

who blocked thalidomide dies in Canada at 101. Awarded the Order of Canada by the Prime Minister August 6.

January 24, 2017

Rachel Carson

When Silent Spring was published in September 1962 it became an instant bestseller and would go on to spark dramatic changes in the way the government regulated pesticides. Drawn from Carson’s own writings, letters and recent scholarship, the film illuminates both the public and private life of the soft-spoken, shy scientist who launched the modern environmental movement.