Rachel Carson was born on May 27, 1907, in Springdale, Pennsylvania. She is best known for her courage in standing up to companies that were spreading pesticides on the Earth. These harmful chemicals were meant to kill weeds, insects, and rodents but were, in fact, harming the Earth’s wildlife.
As an only child, Rachel spent most of her time playing alone and exploring her family’s farm in Pennsylvania. It is here that she discovered her love for wildlife and nature. She dreamed of one day living by the sea and studying the animals and plants that lived in and near it.
When she reached school age, she became interested in a monthly magazine called St. Nicholas. It was full of interesting stories, poems, and articles. However, Rachel’s favorite section was written entirely by children and teenagers. It was this section that inspired her to begin writing and to submit her own story for publication. In September of 1918, Rachel’s article, “A Battle in the Clouds,” was selected as a silver badge winner. It was then that Rachel knew she could be a real writer.
Rachel was determined to get into college, even though there were few women in American colleges and universities at the time. Although Rachel was poor, her family sold some of their farmland and the Pennsylvania College for Women gave her a scholarship to attend their school.
In 1925, Rachel entered college as an English major. She wrote for the student magazine and was a reporter for the school newspaper. Although she had majored in English, she had to take other college courses. One such class was biology, the study of plants and animals. This quickly became another passion of hers. She was excited by the class trips to the local state parks and thrilled with the experiments that they conducted in the lab. Rachel was faced with a problem: continue her time in college as a writer or switch majors to biology.
In the 1930s, only men were scientists, but Rachel had her mind made up. She took the civil service test to work as a marine biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Finally in 1935, Rachel was offered a job after she scored higher than all other applicants (including the men!). After all those years, Rachel was finally going to be a real biologist!
Part of Rachel’s new job was writing about the fish that she studied. Rachel hated being indoors but she enjoyed writing about her passion. In fact, she was so good at writing that her boss encouraged her to write books. In 1941, her first book, Under the Sea Wind. was published. It described how everything that lived by the sea, from the fish to the birds, was connected. It was a whole new way to think about the world.
Rachel went on to write other books about how everything on Earth was connected to the environment. It wasn’t until Rachel was a famous speaker and author for many years that she found the project that would define her life. In the 1950s, Rachel became aware of chemical companies that were spraying an insect repellent, called DDT, over the yards and farms of the world. Rachel was worried. She knew the poisons were killing innocent animals and contaminating the soil and the sea. The companies were rich and powerful, but Rachel knew what she had to do.
In 1962, she published her shocking book, Silent Spring. This caused a great discussion between the chemical companies and scientists. The chemical companies denied their pesticides were harmful and tried to discredit the science behind Rachel’s work. President John F. Kennedy asked for a special report from the top scientists in the world detailing whether or not the chemical was indeed harmful to the environment. When the report came out, it found that Rachel was right. Congress passed several new laws to protect the environment. Rachel’s hard work had paid off!
Rachel Carson will always be remembered for her passion for protecting the Earth. Her writings taught us that every living thing is dependent upon each other and that one woman could actually change the way people look at the world.
“Rachel Carson: Pioneer of Ecology”, by Kathleen Kudlinski
“About Rachel Carson” by the Rachel Carson Council