Rachel Carson – WOMAN of ACTION™



A Celebration of Women™

is elated to Celebrate the Life of this woman, a pioneering soul that cared so much about the world around her, she devoted her life to marine science.  

Her pioneering and persistent work lead her to become one of our world’s leading women educating our globe on the key importance of the role of women in environmental grassroots movements, remembered as one of the most influential women in modern America.


Celebrating the birth of modern environmentalism  …




rachel carson


Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was born on May 27, 1907, on a small family farm near Springdale, Pennsylvania, just up the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh. She was the daughter of Maria Frazier (McLean) and Robert Warden Carson, an insurance salesman.

StNicholas_v23_no5An avid reader, she also spent a lot of time exploring around her family’s 65-acre (26 ha) farm. She began writing stories (often involving animals) at age eight, and had her first story published at age eleven. She especially enjoyed the St. Nicholas Magazine (which carried her first published stories), the works of Beatrix Potter, and the novels of Gene Stratton Porter. She was first “published” at the age of 10 in a children’s magazine dedicated to the work of young writers.

Other youngsters who first saw their words in print in St. Nicholas included William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In her teen years, Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad and Robert Louis Stevenson. The natural world, particularly the ocean, was the common thread of her favorite literature. Carson attended Springdale’s small school through tenth grade, then completed high school in nearby Parnassus, Pennsylvania, graduating in 1925 at the top of her class of forty-five students.

At the Pennsylvania College for Women (today known as Chatham University), as in high school, Carson was somewhat of a loner. She originally studied English, but switched her major to biology in January 1928, though she continued contributing to the school’s student newspaper and literary supplement.

Though admitted to graduate standing at Johns Hopkins University in 1928, she was forced to remain at the Pennsylvania College for Women for her senior year due to financial difficulties; she graduated, ‘magna cum laude’,  in 1929.

After a summer course at the Marine Biological Laboratory, she continued her studies in zoology and genetics at Johns Hopkins in the fall of 1929.

Rachel_Carson_Conducts_Marine_Biology_Research_with_Bob_HinesAfter her first year of graduate school, Carson became a part-time student, taking an assistant-ship in Raymond Pearl’s laboratory, where she worked with rats and Drosophila, to earn money for tuition. After false starts with pit vipers and squirrels, she completed a dissertation project on the embryonic development of the pronephros in fish.

She earned a master’s degree in zoology in June 1932.  She had intended to continue for a doctorate, but in 1934 Carson was forced to leave Johns Hopkins to search for a full-time teaching position to help support her family.

In 1935, her father died suddenly, leaving Carson to care for her aging mother and making the financial situation even more critical.

At the urging of her undergraduate biology mentor Mary Scott Skinker, she settled for a temporary position with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, writing radio copy for a series of weekly educational broadcasts entitled “Romance Under the Waters”. The series of fifty-two seven-minute programs focused on aquatic life and was intended to generate public interest in fish biology and in the work of the bureau—a task the several writers before Carson had not managed.

Carson also began submitting articles on marine life in the Chesapeake Bay, based on her research for the series, to local newspapers and magazines.

Carson’s supervisor, pleased with the success of the radio series, asked her to write the introduction to a public brochure about the fisheries bureau; he also worked to secure her the first full-time position that became available. Sitting for the civil service exam, she outscored all other applicants and in 1936 became only the second woman to be hired by the Bureau of Fisheries for a full-time, professional position, as a junior aquatic biologist.

Rachel Carson cared deeply about the natural world about her.

As a marine biologist her work focused mainly on marine life and on the dangers of chemical pollution; it laid the foundation for the modern environmental movement. She explored the whole of ocean life from the shores to the depths in the 50’s with her Sea Trilogy: “The edge of the sea”, “Under the sea wind”, and “The Sea around us”.

rachel carson deskShe warned the wider public about the possible effects of human activities on marine life, and highlighted the importance of better knowing the ocean and ocean processes because of the key role they play in the life system as a whole.

Carson’s first book, Under the Sea-Wind, published in 1941, highlighted her unique ability to present deeply intricate scientific material in clear poetic language that could captivate her readers and pique their interest in the natural world.

In 1943, Carson was promoted to the position of aquatic biologist in the newly created U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where she authored many bulletins directed at the American public.

One series, known as “Conservation in Action,” was devoted to exploring wildlife and ecology on national wildlife refuges in laymen’s terms.

Another series was entitled “Food from the Sea” and offered information on the proper preparation as well as the advantages of a diet including fish and shellfish to a public unused to eating freshwater fish.

Carson was moved to the position of assistant editor and then editor-in-chief of all Fish and Wildlife Service publications, where her work included reviewing manuscripts as well as overseeing the Fish and Wildlife Service library and its staff, preparing congressional testimony and writing speeches for Fish and Wildlife Service personnel.

carson the book that changed the world

“…her book provoked a firestorm of controversy; as well as, personal attacks on her professional integrity.”

Carson Silent_Spring_Book-of-the-Month-Club_editionWhen it was published by Houghton Mifflin on September 27th and released in 1962, her book Silent Spring had an immediate, profound impact that still resonates today.  The book is widely credited with helping launch the contemporary American environmental movement.

The New Yorker started serializing Silent Spring in June 1962, and it was published in book form (with illustrations by Lois and Louis Darling) by Houghton Mifflin on Sept. 27.

When the book Silent Spring was published, Rachel Carson was already a well-known writer on natural history, but had not previously been a social critic. The book was widely read—especially after its selection by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the New York Times best-seller list—and inspired widespread public concerns with pesticides and pollution of the environment.

Silent Spring facilitated the ban of the pesticide DDT in 1972 in the United States.



The book documented detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment, particularly on birds. Carson accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation, and public officials of accepting industry claims uncritically. Silent Spring has been featured in many lists of the best nonfiction books of the twentieth century. In the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Nonfiction it was at #5, and it was at No.78 in the conservative National Review.

CARSON-articleInlineMost recently, Silent Spring was named one of the 25 greatest science books of all time by the editors of Discover Magazine.

A follow-up book, Beyond Silent Spring, co-authored by H.F. van Emden and David Peakall, was published in 1996.

At a time of massive and rapid increase in agricultural productivity, when natural resources still seemed limitless to the casual eye, it changed our understanding of the environment and of our role in it. Carson argued that pesticides are more properly termed “biocides” because of their detrimental effects on the environment, rarely limited to the targeted pests. Observing that the indiscriminate use of pesticides were killing songbirds, she was inspired by a phrase from a John Keats poem—“And no birds sing” to name the book.

She wrote about technical issues in a beautiful, accessible style, thus reaching a broad audience and sowing the seeds of environmental consciousness. Silent Spring quickly became a best-seller world-wide, and the debate spread from specialized forums to the pages of the New York Times.

Silent Spring elicited a public outcry for direct action followed by a brutal backlash from the chemical industry, often tainted with sexism.

Women scientists were rare and often undervalued, and critics turned to personal attacks to undermine her work, questioning her qualifications and portraying Carson as an unreasonable, hysterical woman and as a communist.


In response, she channeled the simmering debate to educate the public on the impacts of human actions on the environment.

As a result, environmental issues were debated in the Senate for the first time, laying the foundation for the US Environmental Protection Agency.


Through her defence of Silent Spring, Carson became something of an icon for the environmental movement that followed, especially for women activists.

UNESCO had encouraged environmental debates since it was created after World War II.

Rachel Carson challenged her readers to understand that they were a part of nature and responsible for its care in 1962, just as UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission was being established following a recommendation in 1960 to strengthen its marine science program.

It was followed by the Man and the Biosphere program in 1970 “for the improvement of the global relationship between man and the environment; to predict the consequences of today’s actions on tomorrow’s world and thereby to increase man’s ability to manage efficiently the natural resources of the biosphere”, by the International Geoscience Programme in 1972 and by the International Hydrological Programme in 1975.

These initiatives aim to address the defining challenge of our age: safeguarding the Earth’s natural processes for sustainable development, supporting human and ecosystem health.

The two are inseparably linked, and it was through Silent Spring that this message first reached the public.


Charles Schulz portrayed her as a role model for girls in Peanuts as early as 1963.
Rachel Carson may not have been the first to voice ecological concern, but she got through to the world and her voice still resonates today.

carson silent spring 50 years laterTo celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the Rachel Carson Center are organizing a special event focusing on its repercussions and Rachel Carson’s legacy.

Topics of discussion include the role of women in environmental grassroots movements, the international debate on DDT, the impact of pesticides on marine life and, perhaps most importantly, a way forward based on her environmental ethic.

In a television interview, Carson once stated that “man’s endeavors to control nature by his powers to alter and to destroy would inevitably evolve into a war against himself, a war he would lose unless he came to terms with nature.”

She died from cancer in 1964 at the age of 57.


The Fish and Wildlife Service named one of its refuges near Carson’s summer home on the coast of Maine as the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in 1969 to honor the memory of this extraordinary woman.

* If you are in PARIS, France on December 14, 2012.

EVENT: The Legacy of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”

50th Anniversary Celebration

Special event on the occasion of the book’s 50th anniversary

DATE: 14.12.2012

TIME: 09:30 – 17:00

Location: UNESCO Headquarters, Room IV, 125, avenue de Suffren, Paris, France

Rachel Carson cared deeply about the natural world about her. As a marine biologist her work focused mainly on marine life and on the dangers of chemical pollution; it laid the foundation for the modern environmental movement. When it was released in 1962, her book Silent Spring had an immediate, profound impact that still resonates today. She wrote about technical issues in a beautiful, accessible style, thus reaching a broad audience.

Held in partnership with UNESCO and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, this event commemorates Rachel Carson’s legacy with a series of presentations and discussions. The complete program can be viewed here.

The event will also be web cast live.

This event is free and open to all: students, specialists, representatives of NGOs or anyone interested in Rachel Carson and the issues she held dear. Space is limited, so registration is required.


(9:30 am: Opening)

  • Ms Wendy Watson-Wright, Assistant Director General and Executive Secretary, UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission
  • H. E. Mr David Killion, Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of the United States of America to UNESCO
  • H. E. Mr Michael Worbs, Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of Germany to UNESCO
  • Dr Arielle Helmick
  • Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

Keynotes and discussion with the audience

(10 am. participants following via webcast may send their question to: ioc.conf(at)unesco.org)

The public reception of Silent Spring

Prof. Dr Michelle Mart, Rachel Carson Centre fellow, associate professor Pennsylvania State University, USA
The impact of Silent Spring on the general public, from the time of its release until today, and the ensuing effects on public and political perspectives and behaviours towards pesticides.

Women activists in the decade following the Silent Spring: Billee Shoecraft, Ida Honorof, and Carol Van Strum
Prof. Dr Amy Hay, Rachel Carson Centre fellow, assistant professor, University of Texas–Pan American, USA
These western women activists were inspired and influenced by Rachel Carson in their protests against the use of Agent Orange herbicides in the decades following the publication of Silent Spring.

Sylvia Sayer (1904-2000): Gender and Nature Conservatism in Postwar Britain
Dr Matthew Kelly, Rachel Carson fellow, senior lecturer, University of Southampton, United Kingdom
Lady Sayer was one of the foremost early conservators of what is now Dartmoor National Park, in Devon in the south-west of England. She led a fearless and empassioned fight in its defence.

Women in environmental grassroots movements: reflections for governance practices
Dr Mercè Aguera-Cabo, International expert, Spain
A study of women’s roles in grassroots movements about environmental conflicts in Catalonia (Spain) during the last decade shows the relevance of considering gender inequality in power relationships among the members of the organizations, as well as gender tendencies in women’s concerns and interests in environmental issues. The results serve as a basis for a reflection on the introduction of a gender perspective in environmental governance practices.

The debate on DDT in UN conferences
Dr Anna-Katharina Wöbse, researcher, Germany
A study that explores the role the United Nations technical organizations played in the debate on the use of pesticides, shuch as UNESCO, which offered a forum for discussing ecological concerns. The example of pesticide regulation shows clearly what the dilemma of modernization meant to the work of the UN. This also explains the time lag between the diagnosis of potential risks and the ecological paradigm shift around the 1970, and thus reveals some of the “long shadows” of Carson’s book.

(12:30 am – 2 pm: Lunch break. The UNESCO cafeteria will be accessible to public.)

Click here for complete details and to register.


Carson 2 quote

 “We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one ‘less traveled by’—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”  —   Rachel Carson

Related links:

Programme and registration: The legacy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring

Special event on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its publication
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a book that changed the World

Exhibit by the Rachel Carson Center

Read more: http://iipdigital.ait.org.tw/st/english/publication/2008/06/20080602123450eaifas0.7280084.html#ixzz2EyX4sXdk.

EXCERPTS from Rachel Carson’s Writings

A Celebration of Women™


Celebrating the work, honors the spirit and welcomes the memory.


Brava Rachel!


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