100 Years of Carson
June 7, 2007
May 27 marked the 100 birthday of a real activist, scientist, and legend, Rachel Carson. You know, the woman that wrote ‘Silent Spring’. She talked pesticides and cancer before the statistics of getting cancer was one in two for men and one in three for women (and two-thirds of these women have no family history of cancer).
In 1972 the US got rid of DDT (Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane), but the substance is still found in our fish, animals, land and bodies. This is why strong chemical legislation based on the precautionary principle is so important. In 1976 the Toxics Substances Control Act was passed and is the key law protecting us from harmful chemicals in the United States, but it lacks the authority to make real change.
Alright back to Rachel Carson. She was born May 27, 1907 on a family farm just up the Allegheny River near Pittsburgh. She was an avid reader growing up and a remarkable writer at a young age. Her first story was published at the age of 11 and she spent most of time outside enjoying the land and animals around her home. She attended Pennsylvania College for Women originally studying English, but in January of 1928 she switched her major to Biology. Carson graduated in 1929 magna cum laude. That summer she took a course at the Marina Biological Laboratory and then continued her studies in Zoology and Genetics at John Hopkins University in the Fall of 1929. (Ok . . . June 4, 1920 women received the right to vote. Just let that info marinate in your ‘there is currently a female African American Secretary of State" world for a moment)
After taking a part-time position working on an educational radio program called "Romance Under the Sea" with the US Bureau of Fisheries and her supervisor, noticing her extraordinary work, attempted to get her the first full time position that came up. She took the Civil Service exam and outscored everyone that took it in 1936. She was hired as a Junior Aquatic Biologist, becoming only the second woman ever hired by the Bureau for a full-time professional position.
After writing articles for the Baltimore Sun and the Atlantic Monthly, Simon and Schuster publishing house contacted her to write an expanded version on her article, "Undersea", which resulted several years later into "Under the Sea-Wind". Her next book "The Sea Around Us" was published in 1951 and resulted in a National Book Award, two honorary doctorates, and an Oscar award winning film documentary. Her third book "The Edge of the Sea" was published in 1955. Beginning in the 1940’s Carson was concerned about DDT and had been studying its effects on the environment and the health of those exposed to this chemical. "Silent Spring" was released in 1962 amid controversy and threats. She was even called an hysterical woman wanting to lead us back into the dark ages for her thoughts, but the book has since become the basis of the environmental movement in the west.
She died of breast cancer April 4, 1964 at the age of 54.