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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Rachel Carson was born May 27, 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania. She was greatly influenced by her mother, Maria Carson, in her love of nature. She explored the woods close to her house.
She studied marine biology and graduated from the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College) in 1928 summa cum laude. Then she studied at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and earned her M.A. in zoology at Johnís Hopkins University in 1932.
After university, she was hired by the Bureau of Fisheries to write radio scripts during the Depression and she supplemented her income by writing feature articles on natural history for the Baltimore Sun. She as the first woman biologist hired by that agency. She began her career in the federal service as a scientist and editor in 1936. She eventually moved up to become chief of all publications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She wrote pamphlets on conservation of natural resources and edited scientific articles.
Rachel Carson became famous as a naturalist and science writer as she began publishing books she wrote during her free time. These books include:
Under the Sea Wind (1941)
She also wrote many articles including:
By far her most famous book was Silent Spring. Carson began research when she got a letter from a woman who ran a private bird sanctuary in Massachusetts. The woman was horrified to find scores of birds dead and dying two days after DDT was sprayed. Carson began research that was to last for several years before she finished her book.
Rachel Carson stood up to all the criticism of her book with the staunch assurance that she was doing the right thing. Two years after the book was published, Carson died of breast cancer. She received many awards for her book while she still lived and awards continued to be granted to her posthumously. The most prestigious of these was the Presidential Medal of Freedom granted in 1980.
Silent Spring was the most controversial of Rachel Carsonís books. One half million copies of the book were sold in the first year of its publication. Biologists and other scientists praised it highly. Yet, it was attacked by the chemical industry. One manufacturer of Chlordane, for example, tried to prevent Houghton Mifflin from publishing it.
Many government officials also attacked it. Both groups called it alarmist and its evidence unfounded. Carson was belittled as anti-humanitarian crank and a hysterical woman. Much of the criticism against her was riddled with this kind of sexist bias. One official of the Federal Pest Control Review Board said, "I thought she was a spinster. Whatís she so worried about genetics for?"
All the strident denunciations the chemical industry and its apologists couldnít change the fact that Rachel Carsonís book Silent Spring was to change history. President John F. Kennedy formed a special group to investigate Carsonís claims about pesticides.
Rachel Carson was called to testify before Congress in 1963. In the same year, a presidentís report backed up Carsonís claims. A new policy was instituted to protect the public health and the environment. The Environmental Protection Act went into effect in 1970. It remains under continual attach by the chemical industries and its procedures for monitoring the use of chemicals in the environment are seriously under funded and under- enforced.