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Nature's Writers Trail: Carson

Library Guide for the Nature Writer's Trail.

Rachel Carson
March 22, 1907 - April 14, 1964

Rachel Louise Carson was an American marine biologist, author, and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement. She grew up simply in the rural river town of Springdale, Pennsylvania. Her mother nurtured her life-long love of nature, which she expressed first as a writer and later as a student of marine biology. She was hired by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries to write radio scripts during the Depression, which began a fifteen-year career in the federal service as a scientist and editor. In 1936 she was promoted to Editor-in-Chief of all publications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Disturbed by the toxic use of synthetic chemicals such as DDT after World War II, Carson shifted her focus in order to warn the public about the long-term effects of misusing pesticides. Testifying before Congress in 1963, Carson called for new policies to protect human health and the environment. Her crusading efforts were highly influential in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and other government regulations.

  • "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."

  • "It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility."

  • "But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself."

  • Rachel attended college at the Pennsylvania College for Women where she majored in biology.
    • She later got her masters degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins University.
  • After graduation she taught school then got a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
    • At first she wrote for a weekly radio program that educated people on marine biology. 
  • Later, she became a full-time marine biologist and was Chief Editor of Publications for the Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Carson four years writing and researching all things pesticides.
    • In 1973, DDT was banned in the United States. It is still used in some countries to kill mosquitoes, but many mosquitoes have now built up immunity to DDT, likely from too much spraying.

  • Under the Sea Wind (1941)
  • The Sea Around Us (1951)
  • The Edge of the Sea (1955)
  • Silent Spring (1962)

  • On June 9, 1980, Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.
  • The University of California, Santa Cruz, named one of its colleges (formerly known as College Eight) after Rachel Carson College in 2016 - it is the first college to bear a woman's name.
  • Two research vessels have sailed in the United States bearing the name R/V Rachel Carson.
    • One is on the west coast, owned by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), and the other is on the east coast, operated by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

Silent Spring

Silent Spring alerted a large audience to the environmental and human dangers of indiscriminate use of pesticides, spurring revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water.

The Edge of the Sea

Once again a scientifically accurate exploration of the ecology of Atlantic seashore, but also a hauntingly beautiful account of what one can find at the edge of the sea. She explores a tide pool, and an inaccessible cave, and watches a lone crab on the shore at midnight. Each is a memorable encounter.

The Rocky Coast

Captures in text and pictures the mysterious and intensely alive world of both animal and plant life on the Atlantic Coast.

Under the Sea-Wind

Rachel Carson—pioneering environmentalist and author of Silent Spring—opens our eyes to the wonders of the natural world in her groundbreaking paean to the sea.

Lost Woods (Franklin County Public Library)

When Rachel Carson died of cancer in 1964, her four books, including the environmental classic Silent Spring, had made her one of the most famous people in America. This trove of previously uncollected writings is a priceless addition to our knowledge of Rachel Carson, her affinity with the natural world, and her life.

The Sense of Wonder (Franklin County Public Library)

Carson's account of adventures with her young nephew along the coast and through forests and fields, observing wildlife, plants, and storm clouds, is a guide to capturing the power of discovery that Carson viewed as essential to life.

The Sea Around Us (Franklin County Public Library)

The Sea Around Us is one of the most remarkably successful books ever written about the natural world. Rachel Carson's rare ability to combine scientific insight with moving, poetic prose catapulted her book to first place on The New York Times best seller list, where it enjoyed wide attention for 31 consecutive weeks.