1962 Rachel Carson's pioneering and meticulously researched exposé,
Silent Spring, identified the devastating and irrevocable
hazards of DDT, one of the most powerful pesticides the world had
helped set the stage for the environmental movement of the late
20th century. The book's publication caused a firestorm of
controversy. Some of the attacks were very personal,
questioning Carson's integrity and even her sanity.
renowned nature author and a former marine biologist with the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, had grown up with an enthusiasm for
nature matched only by her love of writing and poetry. Born
in 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania, the youngest of three
children, Rachel's interest in all living things in the woods,
meadows and stream near her home was encouraged by her mother,
Maria McLean Carson, who remained Rachel's strongest supporter
throughout her life.
Determined to be
a writer, Rachel entered the Pennsylvania College for Women (now
Chatham College), but feeling she did not possess enough
imagination to write fiction, she turned to biology which always
provided material for her beautiful prose. In 1929, she
graduated magna cum laude.
But in 1934,
limited finances forced her to withdraw from the doctoral program.
With her father's sudden death in 1935, she became responsible for
the family's welfare and began her career with the U.S. Bureau of
Her first book Under
the Sea-Wind published in 1941 did not attract a big
audience. Yet, in 1951, Carson's The Sea Around Us
was an instant success, receiving the National Book Award for
nonfiction and remaining on the New York Best bestseller list for
86 weeks. The success of her book allowed Rachel to continue
her research and study.
in the dangers of DDT was rekindled in 1958, by a letter from a
friend in Massachusetts bemoaning the number of large birds dying
on Cape Code as a result of DDT sprayings. During the four
years it took for Rachel Carson to complete Silent Spring,
she was fighting breast cancer and then bone cancer.
Her finished work
meticulously described how DDT entered the food chain and
accumulated in the fatty tissues of animals, including human
beings, and caused cancer and genetic damage. First
serialized in The New Yorker in June 1962, the book alarmed
readers across America and, not surprisingly, brought a howl of
indignation from the chemical industry.
reaction, Carson included 55 pages of notes and a list of eminent
scientists who had read and approved the manuscript. President
John F. Kennedy's Science Advisory Committee thoroughly vindicated
both Silent Spring and its author. As a result, DDT
came under much closer government supervision and was eventually
Carson outlined were too frightening to ignore. Silent
Spring brought a new public awareness that nature was
vulnerable to human intervention. Rachel Carson died in
1964. She had overcome extraordinary difficulties and
adversities to pioneer a new way of thinking about the connection
of all life.