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Rachel Carson

©James Bennett Dream by SV Bosak

American marine biologist, writer,
and environmentalist, member of the Club of Dreamers (Dream by Susan V. Bosak).

As a child, Carson loved nature and writing. She published her first story at the age of ten.

At the time, most girls didn't go to college. Carson not only wanted to go to college, but she wanted to study science – which was considered a man's profession.

When she went looking for work after graduating, she faced rejection after rejection. Finally, she got a job writing magazine articles about sea creatures. The public gobbled up her articles, and Carson soon published them as books.

In the 1950s, industry began to manufacture many new chemicals to make life easier. The long-term impacts of these chemicals weren't well understood. Carson received a letter from a woman wondering why after the crop dusters sprayed her land, birds dropped out of the trees gasping for breath and died. Carson was alarmed and committed herself to studying the effects of pesticides and wrote a book.

That book, Silent Spring, was published in 1962. It explored the consequences of poisoning the earth. It was extremely controversial. The pesticide industry tried to have the book suppressed and challenged its findings. When CBS television scheduled an hour-long news report on Carson's condemnation of the "rivers of death" the chemical industry was creating, two corporate sponsors withdrew.

Ironically and sadly, while this controversy was swirling around the book, the author was dying of breast cancer – a cancer that may have been caused by exposure to environmental carcinogens such as those she studied. Carson died in 1964.

Many call Carson the mother of the modern environmental movement. Prompted by Carson's book, letters poured into the government from people demanding change. In 1992, a panel of distinguished Americans declared Silent Spring to be the most influential book of the past fifty years.

Said Rachel Carson:

"In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is a story of the earth."

"For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death."

"As cruel a weapon as the caveman's club, the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life."

"The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction."

Recommended Reading:

Rachel Carson: Preserving a Sense of Wonder by Thomas Locker (illus) and Joseph Bruchac. Fulcrum, 2004. An introduction to the life and work of Rachel Carson; includes excerpts from Carson's writings and the titles of her most famous books.

Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson by Amy Ehrlich and Wendell Minor (illus). Silver Whistle, 2003. A poetic introduction to this pioneer nature writer and activist.

© SV Bosak, www.legacyproject.org