Carson, Rachel, 1907-1964

Alternative names
Birth 1907-05-27
Death 1964-04-14

Biographical notes:

American scientist and author of works on environmental problems, including "Silent Spring."

From the description of Rachel Carson collection, 1940-1972. (Johns Hopkins University). WorldCat record id: 49301985

Author and environmental scientist Rachel Carson published juvenile stories in magazines such as St. Nicholas. She studied natural science at the Pennsylvania College for Women and Johns Hopkins, and began teaching and publishing articles in journals. Her masterful books on the sea combine meticulously researched science with a literary sensibility. Her interest in conservation and the environment led to the landmark Silent Spring, cautioning farmers about uncontrolled pesticide use. This controversial bestseller is credited with raising the environmental consciousness of a generation.

From the description of Rachel L. Carson letter to Karl Goedecke, 1952 July 10. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 56429518

Rachel Carson (1907-1964), marine biologist and conservationist, was the author of Silent Spring and other works.

From the description of Rachel Carson papers 1921-1989. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702132883

Rachel Louise Carson, noted biologist and environmentalist who fascinated readers with three books on the wonders of the sea and awakened the American public to the dangers of pesticide misuse with a highly controversial bestseller, was born on May 27, 1907, in Springdale, Pennsylvania, the youngest of three children of Robert and Maria Carson. Attending public schools in Springdale and nearby Parnassus, she was interested in writing at an early age and submitted a number of juvenile stories, poems, and essays to leading youth magazines, winning several prizes from the St. Nicholas Magazine for her contributions.

At the Pennsylvania College for Women (later to become Chatham College), she quickly developed an interest in biology, served as president of the Science Club, and graduated magna cum laude in 1929. Deciding to pursue a career in biology, she enrolled in the graduate program at Johns Hopkins University in 1930, studying genetics under H. S. Jennings and Raymond Pearl. After receiving her M.S. in 1932, she held part-time teaching positions at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland until 1936.

She then joined the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D. C., as an aquatic biologist and began her publishing career with a series of articles on various aspects of the sea for the Baltimore Sun . Her first major publication, an article entitled "Undersea," appeared in the September, 1937 issue of the Atlantic Monthly . She served as editor-in-chief of the Fish and Wildlife Service's publications from 1949 to 1952, when she resigned from the Service to devote more time to writing. For her contributions she was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Department of the Interior.

Rachel Carson's first book, Under the Sea Wind, attracted little notice on its appearance in 1941, although it was a book-of-the-month selection of the Scientific Book Club. However, her second book on the sea, The Sea Around Us (1951), the research for which was made possible by a Eugene Saxton Fellowship in 1949, remained on the best-seller lists for eighty-six weeks, was eventually translated into thirty languages, and received many awards, among them the National Book Award for 1952, the John Burroughs Medal, and gold medals from the Geographical Society of Philadelphia and the New York Zoological Society. A poll of the Associated Press's women editors named Carson the Woman of the Year in Literature for 1951. Among her many honorary memberships in scientific and literary organizations were elections to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the Royal Society of Literature. The critical acclaim for The Sea Around Us paved the way to a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1951.

A reissue of Under the Sea-Wind in 1952 was well received; and her third book, The Edge of the Sea (1955), which shifted focus from the sea to the shore, nearly equalled the popularity of The Sea Around Us and firmly established Carson as the most popular scientific writer in the country.

Long interested in the delicate balance between man and nature, Carson in her next book examined man's destruction of his environment through the careless use of pesticides. Silent Spring (1962) may well be the most controversial American book of the twentieth century. Its first appearance in serial form in The New Yorker triggered the wrath of the chemical industry and associated groups and made Rachel Carson a household name. The continuing controversy sparked federal investigation into the misuse of pesticides and resulted in lengthy Congressional hearings in 1963. Among the many honors accorded Silent Spring were the Audubon Medal from the National Audubon Society, the Cullum Geographical Medal from the American Geographical Society, the Spirit of Achievement Award from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and a Carey-Thomas Honorable Mention for the most distinguished publication of 1962.

After a long fight with cancer, Rachel Carson died on April 14, 1964. Among many posthumous tributes were a dedication in June, 1964 of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge on the Maine coast and the founding of a Rachel Carson Memorial Fund by the National Audubon Society.

From the guide to the Rachel Carson papers, 1921-1989, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)


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  • Pesticides and wildlife
  • Women scientists--Archives
  • Marine ecology
  • Pesticides industry--UnitedStates
  • Seashore biology
  • Pollution--Environmental aspects
  • Women ecologists--Correspondence
  • Bird banding
  • Conservation of natural resources
  • Marine biologists--Archives
  • DDT (Insecticide)--Environmental aspects
  • Pesticides--Environmental aspects
  • Marine pesticides
  • Dutch elm disease
  • Air--Pollution--United States
  • Pesticides industry
  • Pesticide resistance
  • Pesticide residues in food
  • Soils--Pesticidecontent
  • Conservation of natural resources--United States
  • Air--Pollution
  • Birds--Conservation--United States
  • Birds--Conservation


  • Marine biologists--UnitedStates
  • Women scientists--United States
  • Ecologists--UnitedStates
  • Aquatic biologists--United States
  • Geophysicists
  • Oceanographers


  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)