Rachel Carson figure in PA conservation

Rachel Louise Carson

May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964

Rachel Carson was born in Springdale, Pennsylvania in the Allegheny Hills, north of Pittsburgh. She grew up surrounded by 65 acres of rural countryside. Rachel was always a fine student who loved to read and write. She attended Pennsylvania College for Women, now Chatham College, in Pittsburgh. She studied at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts and Johns Hopkins University in Maryland where she earned her masters degree in zoology.

Carson was the second woman ever hired by the US Bureau of Fisheries (now the US Fish and Wildlife Service – FWS) as a professional biologist. Rachel served for fifteen years with the FWS and retired in 1952 as the editor-in-chief of the agency’s publications. She spent her free time writing about natural science for the public. The Sea Around Us, published in 1951, was the best seller that established her career as a full time writer and dedicated conservationist.

Rachel Carson’s most well known book, Silent Spring (1962) educated the nation about the dangers of pesticides to both the environment and humans. “One species – man – [has] acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world.” Her book led to the formation of the President’s Science Advisory Committee. Her courageous testimony in front of Congress instigated important legislative action on the issue.

Carson’s work had a powerful impact on the environmental movement. Silent Spring, in particular, was a rallying point for the fledgling social movement in the 1960s. According to environmental engineer and Carson scholar H. Patricia Hynes, “Silent Spring altered the balance of power in the world. No one since would be able to sell pollution as the necessary underside of progress so easily or uncritically.

Her work, and the activism it inspired, is at least partly responsible for the deep ecology movement, and the overall strength of the grassroots environmental movement since the 1960s. It was also influential on the rise of eco-feminism and on many feminist scientists.

Carson received many awards throughout her life. She was the first woman to be honored with the Audubon medal in 1963. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter. The Rachel Carson Homestead Association in Springdale, PA was formed after her death to preserve her birthplace for the public and honor her work to save our environment.

View her Bureau of Forestry video vignette (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fXaWI4-51U) to discover a little more about her work. In addition, a 2015 film, The Power of One Voice, (http://powerofonevoicefilm.com/) premiered in Pittsburgh in February. An institutional license for screening of the film to students is available on the website.