A marine biologist and nature writer, Rachel Carson is credited as launching the environmental movement with her 1962 book “Silent Spring.” It was first published as a three-part series in The New Yorker. She died of cancer in 1964, after having kept her illness secret for fear that the chemical industry would use the information to impugn her credibility as a writer.
When she was 11 years old, Carson submits a story called “A Battle in the Clouds” from her grammar school English class to St. Nicholas magazine. The advertising department buys the story for just over $3.
Carson graduates magna cum laude from Pennsylvania College (which later became Chatham College and is now Chatham University), earning her an annual scholarship of $100 toward graduate-level studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Studying genetics under H.S. Jennings and Raymond Pearl, Carson receives a master’s degree in zoology and then teaches at the Johns Hopkins summer school and at the University of Maryland.
Carson decides she wants to join the government. She interviews with Elmer Higgins, division chief of the Commerce Department. Higgins is impressed with Carson’s credentials but has no position for her; instead, he hires her on a special assignment of producing a public education series of 52 short radio programs on marine life called “Romance Under the Waters.” Carson takes the job and begins her career as a conservation writer.
As a freelance writer for The (Baltimore) Sunday Sun, Carson submits her first piece on the decline of shad fishing in the area. She continues to write for The Sunday Sun over the next few years, all relating to the conservation of a resource and the effects of human intrusion on nature.
As a result of her high scores on the civil service exams, Carson is awarded a salaried position as junior aquatic biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, a predecessor agency of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Carson submits a draft of an article for the fisheries brochure to Higgins, who tells her it wouldn’t do for that publication but recommends that she send it to The Atlantic Monthly, where it is later published.
Promoted to assistant aquatic biologist and transferred to the field lab in College Park, Maryland, Carson produces historical materials for the public brochures series titled “Our Aquatic Food Animals.”
Carson’s first book, “Under the Sea-Wind,” is a literary exploration of the ocean and the interdependency of all of its creatures.
During World War II when food supplies were short, Carson writes two Conservation Bulletins for the Bureau of Fisheries: “Food from the Sea: Fish and Shellfish of New England” and “Food from the Sea: Fish and Shellfish of the Middle West.” The two articles popularize little-known seafood and help to relieve overexploitation of popular fish.
In her first story for Reader’s Digest, Carson writes about bats and their use of radar to avoid obstacles in the dark. The article is so impressive that the Navy uses it for recruiting purposes.
Climbing her way up the bureaucratic ladder of the Fish and Wildlife Service, Carson is promoted to biologist and chief editor.
When Carson completes her second book, “The Sea Around Us,” she submits chapters to many of the popular magazines of the time. The Yale Review publishes a chapter, which allows Carson to apply for and win the George Westinghouse Science Writing Award of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for the “finest example of science writing in any American magazine in 1950.”
The New Yorker prints about half of “The Sea Around Us” as a three-part “Profile of the Sea.” Other chapters are printed in The Atlantic Naturalist, Nature magazine and Vogue prior to the release of the entire book. Eventually the book is published in several languages.
Carson receives the National Book Award and the John Burroughs Medal, awarded annually for a book of outstanding literary quality in the field of natural history, for “The Sea Around Us.” A degree of doctor of literature is conferred from Chatham College, and Oberlin College gives her a doctor of science. The Garden Club of America honors Carson with the Frances K. Hutchinson Medal, and she is made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in England.
Later that year Carson resigns from the Fish and Wildlife Service to devote all of her time to writing.
“The Edge of the Sea,” which was first printed in installments in The New Yorker, is published.
Carson writes the script to accompany the “Something About the Sky” television show sponsored by Omnibus magazine. Later that year she writes an article for Woman’s Home Companion entitled “Help Your Child to Wonder.”
She also receives a Distinguished Service Alumnae award from Chatham College.
A friend, Olga Owens Huckins, contacts Carson about her home in Duxbury, Mass., being sprayed from the air for mosquito control in which not only insects are wiped out but many birds as well. It is from this inquiry about the use of DDT that Carson begins the research and writing of “Silent Spring.”
Suffering from health issues, Carson serves on only a limited basis on the Natural Resources Committee of the Democratic Advisory Council. She suggests potential policy actions for the committee to consider by outlining critical environmental issues including natural resource preservation through the Wilderness Bill, sea pollution from radioactive contamination, pesticide poisoning and pollution control.
First serialized in The New Yorker, a book version of “Silent Spring” is published and meets with both great favor and great opposition. The book influences public concern with pesticides and pollution and also prompts President John F. Kennedy to call for testing of the chemicals mentioned in the book.
Carson testifies before Congress and calls for policies that would protect humans and the environment from the harmful and long-term effects of pesticides.
After a long battle with breast cancer, Carson dies on April 14.
The text from Carson’s 1956 article “Something About the Sky” is published posthumously as a book, “The Sense of Wonder.”