Rachel Louise Carson
Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist and nature writer whose writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement.
Carson started her career as a biologist in the U.S. bureau of fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. She widely praised 1951 bestseller the sea around us won her financial security and recognition as a gifted writer. Her next book, the edge of the sea, and the republished version of her first book, under the sea wind, were also bestsellers. Together, her sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life, from the shores to the surface to the deep sea.
In the late 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation and the environmental problems caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented portion of the American public. Silent Spring spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy—leading to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides—and the grassroots environmental movement the book inspired led to the creation of the environmental protection agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom by jimmy carter.
Early life and education
Rachel Carson was born on May 27, 1907, on a small family farm near Springdale, Pennsylvania, just up the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh. An avid reader, she also spent a lot of time exploring around her family's 65-acre (26 ha) farm. She began writing stories (often involving animals) at age eight, and had her first story published at age eleven. She especially enjoyed the St. Nicholas magazine (which carried her first published stories), the works of Beatrix potter, and the novels of Gene Stratton Porter, and in her teen years, Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad and Robert Louis Stevenson. The natural world, particularly the ocean, was the common thread of her favorite literature. Carson attended Springdale’s small school through tenth grade, and then completed high school in nearby Parnassus, Pennsylvania, graduating in 1925 at the top of her class of forty-four students.
At the Pennsylvania college for women (today known as Chatham university), as in high school, Carson was somewhat of a loner. She originally studied English, but switched her major to biology in January 1928, though she continued contributing to the school's student newspaper and literary supplement. Though admitted to graduate standing at Johns Hopkins University in 1928, she was forced to remain at the Pennsylvania College for women for her senior year due to financial difficulties; she graduated magna cum laude in 1929. After a summer course at the marine biological laboratory, she continued her studies in zoology and genetics at Johns Hopkins in the fall of 1929.
After her first year of graduate school, Carson became a part-time student, taking an assistantship in Raymond pearl's laboratory, where she worked with rats and drosophila, to earn money for tuition. After false starts with pit vipers and squirrels, she completed a dissertation project on the embryonic development of the pronephros in fish. She earned a master's degree in zoology in June 1932. She had intended to continue for a doctorate, but in 1934 Carson was forced to leave Johns Hopkins to search for a full-time teaching position to help support her family. In 1935, her father died suddenly, leaving Carson to care for her aging mother and making the financial situation even more critical. at the urging of her undergraduate biology mentor Mary Scott Skinker, she settled for a temporary position with the U.S. bureau of fisheries, writing radio copy for a series of weekly educational broadcasts entitled "romance under the waters". the series of fifty-two seven-minute programs focused on aquatic life and was intended to generate public interest in fish biology and in the work of the bureau—a task the several writers before Carson had not managed. Carson also began submitting articles on marine life in the Chesapeake Bay, based on her research for the series, to local newspapers and magazines.
Carson's supervisor, pleased with the success of the radio series, asked her to write the introduction to a public brochure about the fisheries bureau; he also worked to secure her the first full-time position that became available. Sitting for the civil service exam, she outscored all other applicants and in 1936 became only the second woman to be hired by the bureau of fisheries for a full-time, professional position, as a junior aquatic biologist.
The edge of the sea and transition to conservation work
In early 1953, Carson began library and field research on the ecology and organisms of the Atlantic shore. In 1955, she completed the third volume of her sea trilogy, the edge of the sea, which focuses on life in coastal ecosystems (particularly along the eastern seaboard). It appeared in the New Yorker in two condensed installments shortly before the October 26 book release. by this time, Carson's reputation for clear and poetical prose was well-established; the edge of the sea received highly favorable reviews, if not quite as enthusiastic as for the sea around us.
Through 1955 and 1956, Carson worked on a number of projects—including the script for an omnibus episode, "something about the sky"—and wrote articles for popular magazines. Her plan for the next book was to address evolution, but the publication of Julian Huxley’s evolution in action—and her own difficulty in finding a clear and compelling approach to the topic—led her to abandon the project. Instead, her interests were turning to conservation. She considered an environment-themed book project tentatively entitled remembrance of the earth and became involved with the nature conservancy and other conservation groups. She also made plans to buy and preserve from development an area in Maine she and freeman called the "lost woods".
Early in 1957, family tragedy struck a third time when one of the nieces she had cared for in the 1940s died at the age of 31, leaving a five-year-old orphan son, Roger Christie. Carson took on that responsibility, adopting the boy, alongside continuing to care for her aging mother; this took a considerable toll on Carson. She moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, to care for roger, and much of 1957 was spent putting their new living situation in order and focusing on specific environmental threats.
By fall 1957, Carson was closely following federal proposals for widespread pesticide spraying; the USDA planned to eradicate fire ants and other spraying programs involving chlorinated hydrocarbons and organophosphates were on the rise. For the rest of her life, Carson's main professional focus would be the dangers of pesticide overuse.
Research and writing
Starting in the mid-1940s, Carson had become concerned about the use of synthetic pesticides, many of which had been developed through the military funding of science since World War II. It was the USDA's 1957 fire ant eradication program, however, that prompted Carson to devote her research, and her next book, to pesticides and environmental poisons. The fire ant program involved aerial spraying of DDT and other pesticides (mixed with fuel oil), including the spraying of private land. Landowners in long island filed a suit to have the spraying stopped, and many in affected regions followed the case closely. Though the suit was lost, the supreme court granted petitioners the right to gain injunctions against potential environmental damage in the future; this laid the basis for later successful environmental actions.
The Washington, D.F. chapter of the Audubon society also actively opposed such spraying programs, and recruited Carson to help make public the government's exact spraying practices and the related research. Carson began the four-year project of what would become Silent Spring by gathering examples of environmental damage attributed to DDT. she also attempted to enlist others to join the cause: essayist e. b. white, and a number of journalists and scientists. By 1958, Carson had arranged a book deal, with plans to co-write with Newsweek science journalist Edwin Diamond. however, when the New Yorker commissioned a long and well-paid article on the topic from Carson, she began considering writing more than simply the introduction and conclusion as planned; soon it was a solo project. (Diamond would later write one of the harshest critiques of Silent Spring.)
As her research progressed, Carson found a sizable community of scientists who were documenting the physiological and environmental effects of pesticides. She also took advantage of her personal connections with many government scientists, who supplied her with confidential information. From reading the scientific literature and interviewing scientists, Carson found two scientific camps when it came to pesticides: those who dismissed the possible danger of pesticide spraying barring conclusive proof, and those who were open to the possibility of harm and willing to consider alternative methods such as biological pest control.
By 1959, the USDA's agricultural research service responded to the criticism of Carson and others with a public service film, fire ants on trial; Carson characterized it as "flagrant propaganda" that ignored the dangers that spraying pesticides (especially Dieldrin and Heptachlor) posed to humans and wildlife. That spring, Carson wrote a letter, published in the Washington post, that attributed the recent decline in bird populations—in her words, the "silencing of birds"—to pesticide overuse. That was also the year of the "great cranberry scandal": the 1957, 1958, and 1959 crops of U.S. cranberries were found to contain high levels of the herbicide aminotriazole (which caused cancer in laboratory rats) and the sale of all cranberry products was halted. Carson attended the ensuing FDA hearings on revising pesticide regulations; she came away discouraged by the aggressive tactics of the chemical industry representatives, which included expert testimony that was firmly contradicted by the bulk of the scientific literature she had been studying. She also wondered about the possible "financial inducements behind certain pesticide programs".
Research at the library of medicine of the national institutes of health brought Carson into contact with medical researchers investigating the gamut of cancer-causing chemicals. of particular significance was the work of national cancer institute researcher and founding director of the environmental cancer section Wilhelm Hueper, who classified many pesticides as carcinogens. Carson and her research assistant Jeanne Davis, with the help of NIH librarian Dorothy Algiers, found evidence to support the pesticide-cancer connection; to Carson the evidence for the toxicity of a wide array of synthetic pesticides was clear-cut, though such conclusions were very controversial beyond the small community of scientists studying pesticide carcinogenesis.
By 1960, Carson had more than enough research material, and the writing was progressing rapidly. In addition to the thorough literature search, she had investigated hundreds of individual incidents of pesticide exposure and the human sickness and ecological damage that resulted. However, in January, a duodenal ulcer followed by several infections kept her bedridden for weeks, greatly delaying the completion of Silent Spring. as she was nearing full recovery in march (just as she was completing drafts of the two cancer chapters of her book), she discovered cysts in her left breast, one of which necessitated a mastectomy. Though her doctor described the procedure as precautionary and recommended no further treatment, by December Carson discovered that the tumor was in fact malignant and the cancer had metastasized. Her research was also delayed by revision work for a new edition of the sea around us, and by a collaborative photo essay with Erich Hartmann. Most of the research and writing was done by the fall of 1960, except for the discussion of recent research on biological controls and investigations of a handful of new pesticides. However, further health troubles slowed the final revisions in 1961 and early 1962.
It was difficult finding a title for the book; Silent Spring was initially suggested as a title for the chapter on birds. by august 1961, Carson finally agreed to the suggestion of her literary agent Marie Rodell: Silent Spring would be a metaphorical title for the entire book—suggesting a bleak future for the whole natural world—rather than a literal chapter title about the absence of birdsong. With Carson's approval, editor Paul brooks at Houghton Mifflin arranged for illustrations by Louis and Lois darling, who also designed the cover. The final writing was the first chapter, "a fable for tomorrow", which was intended to provide a gentler introduction to what might otherwise be a forbiddingly serious topic. By mid-1962, brooks and Carson had largely finished the editing, and were laying the groundwork for promoting the book by sending the manuscript out to select individuals for final suggestions.