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  • Sara Thompson

Helping the Environment with Rachel Carson

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

Image credit is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, obtained from Wikimedia Commons.



Rachel Louise Carson was born in May 1907 in Pennsylvania on her family’s farm. As a child she attended a local schools and graduated top of her class. When not in school she spent most of her time exploring the 65 acres of her family’s farm and writing short stories. Her stories often involved animals, particularly marine animals.


She attended the Pennsylvania College for Women, pursuing a degree in English at first, but switched to biology shortly after. She continued writing and wrote for the school’s newspaper. She graduated in 1929 and continued her studies at Johns Hopkins in zoology and genetics. She received her master’s degree in zoology in 1932 after she completed thesis research in the embryonic development of fish.


Although Carson wanted to pursue a PhD, she was forced to search for employment to support her aging parents during the Great Depression. One of her first jobs was writing short, educational programs for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries to broadcast on the radio. Her predecessors had not been successful in capturing the interest of the public, but Carson’s history of short stories gave her a leg up on her colleagues and began to generate more interest with her radio stories. Her supervisor then tasked her with writing the public brochure to the bureau. He looked for ways to secure her a full-time position and in 1936 she became the second woman hired to a full-time position by the Bureau of Fisheries as an aquatic biologist.


In her new position at the Bureau of Fisheries (later to become the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Management in 1940), Carson would analyze field data on fish populations and write brochures and other public literature. She also regularly submitted articles to The Baltimore Sun. Several of her written works were submitted to scientific journals and magazines. By 1945 she was supervising a small writing staff and became chief editor of publications in 1949. During this time, she was working on writing and publishing books about the oceans and marine life.


In 1945, she learned of the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT, and began to research its effects on the environment. In 1962 she published her book Silent Spring, which described the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment, especially DDT. The book influenced and helped launch many environmental movements. She was not the first to raise these concerns, but her ability to write to broad audiences helped to increase awareness.


Carson sadly passed away in April 1964, after battling breast cancer. Through her publications, especially Silent Spring, her work was able to launch much of the environmental work being done today. Because of this she is known as the mother of modern environmentalism, not just because of her publications but also from her wealth of biological knowledge.


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