Environmentalist Nerdy Girl: Rachel Carson

rachel carson


Since it’s Earth Day, I thought I’d talk about one of our Nerdy Girl role models who has made a difference for the earth!

Rachel Carson was born in 1907 in Pennsylvania. She was a marine biologist, an author, and an ecologist. After receiving both her Bachelor’s and her Master’s Degrees in the 1930s, she began working for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries.  She wrote radio scripts and eventually became the Editor-in-Chief for all publications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. At the same time, she was writing freelance articles about natural history for the Baltimore Sun.

In her free time, Carson began writing lyric prose. What a beautiful blend of poetry and essay that sounds like! She first published her lyric prose in The Atlantic, then turned it into a book titled Under the Sea-wind. In 1952 and 1955, she published two books about the ocean that catapulted her to fame as a naturalist and science writer. One of the things she had to say about the sea was “The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place.”

Carson became concerned after World War II that America was over-using synthetic chemicals as pesticides. She began doing research into this during the 50s that became the basis for her most famous book, Silent Spring. After its release in 1962, she was attacked by chemical companies as well as government officials who claimed she was an alarmist. She testified before Congress in 1963 to work toward protecting both the environment and human health.

Rachel Carson was the person who brought to light the dangers of using DDT as a chemical pesticide both to animals and to humans. I can remember learning about how DDT weakened the eggs of eagles and led to them being an endangered species when I was in elementary school.

The more I read about Rachel Carson, the more impressed by her I am. She got a Master’s Degree in a time when women were still not common in higher education. She became Editor-in-Chief in a government service that I imagine was mostly dominated by men. She faced adversity after publication and had to fight to be taken seriously. The most impressive thing, in my opinion, is that she did the publicity and testified before Congress all while battling breast cancer. What an impressive woman!

Unfortunately, Carson’s fight with breast cancer ended in 1964 at the age of 56. I can only imagine what more progress she could have made, given more time. I want to leave you with more of her beautiful words. I know I will be looking for a copy of Silent Spring soon.

“Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity? Who would want to live in a world which is just not quite fatal?”
― Rachel CarsonSilent Spring

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
― Rachel CarsonSilent Spring