Jody Victor tells about Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson has been called the Mother of the Modern Environmental Movement.

Rachel Louise Carson was born on May 27, 1907, in the small river town of Springdale, Pennsylvania. She was the youngest of three children who had a rugged upbringing in a simple farmhouse. She credited her mother with introducing her to the world of nature and the living world that became her lifelong passion.

Rachel graduated from Pennsylvania for Women (now Chatham College) in 1929, studied at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory during the summers, and received her MA in zoology from John Hopkins University in 1932. Later she went on to teach at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland.

After completing her studies Rachel joined the US Bureau of Fisheries, later called the US Fish and Wildlife Service, as a writer for a radio show called, “Romance Under the Waters”. Her scripts were called “Seven Minute Fish Tales”. In 1936 she became the first woman to take and pass the civil service test. The Bureau of Fisheries hired her as a full-time junior biologist and over the next 15 years she rose in the ranks until she was the chief editor of all publications for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. She wrote pamphlets on conservation and natural resources and edited scientific articles.

In 1952, she resigned from her government position and returned a Guggenheim Fellowship to the foundation to devote herself to her writing. She wrote books on her observations of life under the sea, a world unknown to the majority of people at the time. In 1961, she published The Sea Around Us, for which she won the National Book Award. Later a documentary made from The Sea Around Us won an Academy Award.

Embedded in all her writings was the view that human beings were but one part of nature distinguished primarily by their power to alter it, in some cases irreversibly. She became disturbed by the prolific use of synthetic chemical pesticides after World War II and eventually changed her focus in order to warn the public about the long-term effects of misusing pesticides. Her most famous book, Silent Spring, was published in 1962 and in it she challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government and called for a change in the way humankind viewed the natural world. Silent Spring raised awareness of the dangers of environmental pollution, especially the use of DDT, and was largely responsible for the founding of the environmental movement and the introduction of environmental legislation. She was attacked by the chemical industry and some in government as an alarmist, but courageously continued to speak out to remind us that we are a vulnerable part of the natural world and that we are subject to the same damage as the rest of the ecosystem. President Kennedy read her work and, despite attacks also from the chemical industry, instructed his Science Advisory Committee to investigate the chemicals mentioned in her book. The panel confirmed her results in 1963. Rachel Carson received many awards from conservation and animal welfare societies and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1980, she was posthumously awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom.

“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.”

~ Rachel Carson

Jody Victor