Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Springdale, Allegheny County
Springdale's Rachel Carson wrote the ground-breaking study of the effects of pesticides on people in Silent Spring.
Awards: National Book Award, Presidential Medal of Freedom
Rachel Carson was born in Springdale, Pennsylvania, in 1907. Carson was a graduate of Chatham College and Johns Hopkins University. To this day, Carson remains one of the most renowned nature writers of all time. Her exquisite use of language and poetic writing style made her works, Silent Spring and The Sea Around Us, best-selling books. Rachel Carson died from breast cancer in 1964 in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Rachel Carson, the youngest of Robert and Maria Carson's three children, was raised on her family's farm in Springdale, Pennsylvania. From an early age, Rachel was inspired by her mother's love of nature. Her inherited love of the living world developed into a life-long interest. After graduating from Parnassus High School, Carson enrolled at the Pennsylvania College for Women, (now Chatham College in Pittsburgh). She first majored in English, but switched to Zoology. After graduating college in 1929, Carson studied at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and went on to earn an MS in Zoology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1932.
Carson continued her work studying Zoology while teaching at the University of Maryland from 1931 to 1936. In 1936, she was hired by the US Bureau of Fisheries and Wildlife Service to write radio scripts during the Great Depression. Carson supplemented her income by writing articles on natural history for TheBaltimore Sun. During her 15 year career in the federal service as a scientist and editor, she rose to become the Editor-in-Chief of all publications for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Rachel Carson combined her scientific knowledge with her eloquent writing skills to produce works for the public. Rachel Carson's best-known publications are the books: Under the Sea Wind (1941), The Sea Around Us (1951), The Edge of the Sea (1955), and Silent Spring (1962). The first three publications constituted a biography of the ocean and made Carson famous as a naturalist and writer. In 1952, The Sea Around Us won the National Book Award and was on the nonfiction best-seller list for 39 weeks.
Carson's fourth publication, Silent Spring, explored the effects of chemical pesticides on the environment and people. Silent Spring caused controversy when it was first published in 1962 and still remains Carson's most famous literary publication. The book detailed the government's abuse of new chemical pesticides such as DDT and, in particular, "pest" control programs. After publication, Silent Spring met a harsh reaction from the chemical industry. By the end of 1962, Audubon and National Parks Magazine had published many excerpts from the book, and chemical companies started to realize the negative effects of some chemicals.
Rachel Carson almost single-handedly alerted Americans to the dangers of many commonly used agricultural chemicals. Almost a half of a century has passed since Rachel Carson wrote her last book, but she and her works continue to receive well-deserved honors. In 1980, Carson was awarded the highest civilian decoration in the nation, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1999, she was chosen as one of Time Magazine's "Top 20 Most Influential Scientists and Thinkers of the 20th Century," and one of only five to be featured on the cover. Silent Spring was ranked the fifth most important book of the 20th century and was also ranked fifth on "The Modern Library's 100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Century." US News and World Report chose Carson as one of the "25 Americans Who Shaped the Modern Era." Carson was also chosen as one of the "20 Greatest Innovators of the Century" by the American Heritage magazine.
Although Rachel Carson spent most of her literary life in Maryland, she claimed that the beautiful wilderness of Pennsylvania was an early inspiration. To this day, Pennsylvania remembers and celebrates Carson through the Rachel Carson Homestead Association (RCHA), a nature preserve in her hometown of Springdale, Pennsylvania. There is also a hiking trail that runs through Springdale and continues on for thirty-four miles. It is respectfully named, The Rachel Carson Trail.
Rachel Carson was diagnosed with breast cancer while she was writing Silent Spring. Shortly after the book was published, Carson became ill from the disease. Carson died on April 14, 1964, in her home in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Under the Sea-Wind. New York: Oxford University Press, 1941.
The Sea Around Us. New York: Oxford University Press, 1951.
The Edge of the Sea. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1955.
Silent Spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962.
The Sense of Wonder. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.