Starting as an English major in college, Rachel Carson switched to biology and graduated magna cum laude in 1929. She continued her studies, earning a master’s degree in zoology.
Hired by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, she wrote scripts for a series of weekly educational radio broadcasts focused on aquatic life designed to generate public interest in the work of the bureau. As a junior aquatic biologist, Carson’s main responsibilities were to analyze and report field data and to write literature for the public.
One of these writings would be published in a newspaper as her supervisor told her it was too good to be a brochure. Impressed with the article, she was approached by a book publisher to expand it and in 1941 Under the Sea Wind was published and followed in 1950 by The Sea Around Us- considered a biography of the sea which would be a New York Times bestseller and the winner of the 1952 National Book Award. The popularity of these books allowed her to quit her job to focus solely on writing. Her next book The Edge of the Sea, published in 1955, would examine the ecosystems of the eastern U.S. coast from Maine to Florida.
By this time Carson had become a celebrity, but it would be the publication of her book Silent Spring in 1962 that would thrust her into battle with the chemical industry of the time. Carson brought forth the idea that the toxic chemicals being used in great abundance might need more consideration. While she did question the practices of using powerful pesticides, like DDT, she didn’t call for an outright ban–it was her position that we needed more study to understand the impact of the widespread use of these toxins in order to use them more effectively.
And while some detractors like to blame Silent Spring for things well beyond its reach, the American Chemical Society states that the book’s legacy lies in a change in the scientific community’s increased focus on environmentally friendly practices and the public’s heightened support for sustainability in all areas of our lives.
Written by Angela Goad