Carson, Rachel (1907–1964)

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Carson, Rachel (1907–1964)

American marine biologist who alerted the world to the dangers of chemical pollution, altering its destructive course. Born Rachel Louise Carson in Springdale, Pennsylvania, on May 27, 1907; died of cancer at her home in Silver Spring, Maryland, on April 14, 1964; daughter of Robert Warden Carson and Maria Carson; attended Pennsylvania College for Women in Pittsburgh (became Chatham College in 1955), B.A., 1929; Johns Hopkins, M.A. in marine zoology, 1932; never

married; children: brought up two nieces, then adopted Roger Christie, son of one of the nieces.

Selected writings: (illustrated by Howard Frech) Under the Sea Wind (Simon and Schuster, 1941); The Sea Around Us (Oxford University Press, 1951); (illustrated by Bob Hines) The Edge of the Sea (Houghton Mifflin, 1955); Silent Spring (1961).

"If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children," wrote Rachel Carson, "I should ask that her gift to each … be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life." Carson had such wonder, and it lasted until the day she died. She longed to be remembered for her love of nature, rather than for her dark warning.

The woman who wrote so eloquently of the ocean was born on May 27, 1907, far from its shores, 18 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Seven years earlier, her father Robert Warden Carson had purchased 65 heavily wooded acres in the town of Springdale, near the banks of the Allegheny River. In its pastoral setting, his white clapboard, two-story house was surrounded by the region's industries—coal mining, iron smelting, and steel and chemical manufacturing—and by their byproducts—slag heaps, black soot, industrial housing, low wages, unemployment, and strikes. Rachel's stern-looking, gentle mother Maria Carson was convinced that when people savaged their environment, the ugliness infiltrated their lives. Love of nature became a mother-daughter bond.

From the age of two on, Rachel roamed the family woods and ten-acre apple orchard. There were chickens, as well as rabbits, pigs, cows, horses, and always a dog, always a cat. At first, Rachel loved to tag along as brother Robert, eight years her senior, went hunting; soon, however, she pattered behind him, questioning his need to kill, putting a large damper on Robert's day.

At six, she entered the Springdale Grammar School. Despite poor attendance, Rachel maintained a B average. There were many deadly diseases plaguing the children of turn-of-the-century America: smallpox, tuberculosis, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and whooping cough. With the first sign of an outbreak, Maria preferred to tutor her brood at home. This was due, no doubt, to the chronic illness of her eldest daughter Marian, who was ten years older than Rachel and suffered from diabetes.

Rachel longed to be a writer. She was enthralled by the works of Beatrix Potter and doted on Gene Stratton Porter 's Freckles, the story of an orphan boy who loved nature. In a September 1918 issue of St. Nicholas magazine, 10-year-old Rachel Carson had her first story in print, the tale of a Canadian aviator, inspired by a letter from her brother who was then in the U.S. Army Aviation Service. A year later, St. Nicholas published two more. Maria Carson, an educated, talented woman who could sing and play the piano and had dreamed of a performing career, determined that her daughter would have her own chance at her dreams.

Though the Carsons appeared well-off, they were land poor. Rachel's father, who worked for the local power company, had intended to subdivide some of his property into building lots. Instead, because of economic downturns and World War I, he was forced to sell off the land bit by bit and borrow on the lots remaining.

In May 1925, 18-year-old Rachel graduated from Parnassus High School in New Kensington. That fall on a tiny scholarship, she entered the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College) in Pittsburgh to study literature. The school, noted for high academic standards, was comprised mainly of students from prosperous homes in the area. Though she made friends easily, Carson was selective and a hater of small talk. At first, she turned her attention to her studies and joined the student paper, "The Arrow." She eventually became part of a small group, mostly writers and hockey players. The slight, blue-eyed, 5′4″ Carson was considered "a whale of a goalie" by teammates; the hockey squad would win the 1927–28 school championship.

Required to take biology as a sophomore, Carson arrived in class, writes Philip Sterling, as "an intellectual tourist," but was soon caught up in the intense passion her teacher Mary Scott Skinker had for the marvels found beneath the microscope. The two developed a lifelong friendship, and Carson realized that art and science were not necessarily at odds. When she changed her major from English to science, her friends and English teachers were fearful that she was throwing away a chance for stardom as a writer in order to become an obscure biology teacher in some remote high school; opportunities for women in science were severely limited in the 1920s. "You ought to see the reactions I get," she wrote a friend. "I've gotten bawled out and called all sorts of blankety-blank names." Carson never earned less than an A minus in her science courses.

But she was falling behind in tuition. Rachel's earnings from tutoring and her mother's sale of the good china was not enough. The school's president Cora Coolidge and dean Mary Marks arranged for private financial help from some of their well-heeled friends. By the time she graduated, magna cum laude, in 1929, Carson owed the school $1,600, a substantial amount for the time, and used two of her father's lots, held in her name, as collateral.

Carson had begun to believe that her future was linked to the sea. Intent on studying marine biology, she was granted a year's scholarship at Johns Hopkins in zoology and spent the summer before graduate school on a fellowship at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Cape Cod where she began her master's thesis project: studying the cranial nerves of a turtle. Carson was warned again and again, by those who cared, that her career choices would be limited. There was no room in the male-dominated field of marine biology for a woman, no matter how bright, no matter how well-trained.

At Johns Hopkins, she worked a 46-hour week with classroom study and evening lab work. In early January 1930, she found a house just outside Baltimore and convinced her family to move there, two months after the Wall Street crash. By June, Carson had found summer work as a teaching assistant to help make ends meet. That autumn, while her father found a job in Baltimore as a radio-repairs estimator, she worked as a lab assistant to a geneticist.

Following her June graduation in 1932, the warnings proved true: she found no work in science for the next two years. When her father died on July 6, 1935, Rachel became the sole support of her mother. She began writing seven-minute radio "fish tales" for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. She then took a civil-service exam for the position of junior aquatic biologist, grade P-1, achieved the highest score, and was assigned to the office of Elmer Higgins, head of the bureau's Division of Scientific Inquiry. It was her first full-time job. Rachel and her mother moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, to be closer to her office in Washington D.C. The household had expanded. Rachel's sister Marian had died of complications from diabetes at age 40, leaving behind two daughters, Virginia and Marjorie Williams , who were of elementary school age. Rachel and her mother were determined to raise them. Rachel would be responsible for the money; her mother would care for the house.

Higgins had asked Carson to gather her "fish tales" for a government pamphlet and write an introduction, but when she turned in the work, he found it unsuitable. What she had written, he said, was a piece of literature, far too good for a U.S. government pamphlet. Higgins encouraged her to write a more pedestrian overview of fish and send her original material to the Atlantic Monthly. The experience provided the inspiration: Carson would combine her love of writing and her love of biology. In early 1936, she began to sell articles to The Baltimore Sun's Sunday magazine. In September 1937, the Atlantic Monthly published her introduction, now titled "Undersea," under the name R.L. Carson.

The always encouraging Higgins pointed out that the introduction was in actuality an outline for a book on marine ecology. Break it down into subdivisions, he said, and write a full chapter on each. Meanwhile, author Hendrik Willem van Loon had read her article in the Atlantic and was so impressed with its lively prose that he bandied the name R.L. Carson about the offices of Quincy Howe, editor-in-chief of Simon and Schuster. Howe contacted Carson and asked for a book outline and sample chapter. For the next three years, Rachel worked nights and weekends, writing from the viewpoint of her main character, the sea, and peripheral characters, the sea's inhabitants and the birds who lived by the shore. She would always be a slow writer. "Writing is largely a matter of … hard work," she said, "of writing and rewriting endlessly until you are satisfied that you have said what you want to say. … For me, that usually means many, many revisions." Finally, her mother typed the manuscript and sent it to New York. Under the Sea Wind, published in 1941, had a swift, spectacular reception from dazzled New York critics and renowned marine scientists, then was abruptly forgotten. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor quickly diverted interest.

Silent Spring, 1961">

The central problem of our age has become the contamination of man's total environment with substances of incredible potential for harm.

—Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, 1961

With men going off to war, Carson was upgraded at the U.S. Bureau to assistant to the chief of the Office of Information in the Fish and Wildlife Service; for the next two years (1942–44), she and her family lived in Evanston, Illinois, close to her Chicago office, where the Bureau had been moved to make room for wartime agencies in Washington. Because of meat shortages, Carson was in charge of enticing America to eat seafood as a dinner-time staple. Between 1943 and 1945, she put out four pamphlets extolling the nutritional value of fish. Personally, Carson never cared for fish—at least, not on a platter.

Following the war, the Fish and Wildlife Service turned to wildlife conservation. Carson planned a series of 12 booklets, collected under the title Conservation in Action (1947–50). Independent, affable, but certainly not meek, she became editor-in-chief of the Bureau's Information Division, supervising a staff of six. Wildlife artist Bob Hines, who then worked for her, remarked that she had "the sweetest, quietest 'no' any of us had ever heard. But it was like Gibraltar." Said Hines:

She knew how to get things done the quickest, simplest, most direct way. … She had no patience with dishonesty or shirking in any form and she didn't appreciate anybody being dumb. She always showed much more tolerance for a dull-minded person who was honest than for a bright one who wasn't. She didn't like shoddy behavior. She was just so doggone good she couldn't see why other people couldn't try to be the same. She had standards, high ones.

Once when he brought her a drawing of a mullet, she held it up and said, "We'd better fix this one, Bob. You've put one spine too many in the dorsal fin."

The quick disappearance of her first book had been a major disappointment to Carson, mentally and financially; she had little interest in trying again. Instead, aided by her job, she studied the sea through summers spent at Woods Hole and job-related excursions to eastern fishery stations, marine wildlife refuges, Atlantic beaches, and California's Pacific coast. Before long, she needed a better outlet than government pamphlets to contain all that she had learned. Carson wanted to write a book that she herself had "searched for on library shelves but never found," a book for anyone who "has stood on the shore alone with the waves and his thoughts, or has felt from afar the fascination of the sea."

Her work began the summer of 1948. After six months of early morning sessions before going to her office, she had enough pages to show a publisher and sought out agent Marie Rodell in New York. Oxford University Press, though skeptical about its commercial prospects, offered a contract in May 1949. Carson took the next step in the research. Though she called herself an "indifferent swimmer," she dove in full metal helmet and lead weights off the Florida coast. Then, though sailors believed that women on board were bad luck, she and Rodell were the first women to voyage on the Albatross III, the Fish and Wildlife survey ship, spending ten days trawling the fishing grounds of George's Bank off Cape Cod. A fellowship allowed her to take a leave from work without pay. Carson had never known freedom to just write. When the money ran out, she returned to work but continued to squeeze out writing hours. With no time for nature walks, no time for sleep, no time for life, she slogged on. "I feel now that I'd die if this went on much longer." The Sea Around Us was typed by Maria Carson, then 81, and delivered in July 1950.

Soon, there were rumblings of the success to come—Yale reprinted a chapter in its Yale Review; The New Yorker bought the right to reprint sections; Nature Magazine took a chapter; Reader's Digest purchased reprint rights in condensed form—all before the July 2, 1951, publication date. The Sea Around Us spent 81 weeks on The New York Times' bestseller list; there was not an unfavorable review in sight. Wrote a New York Times critic: "Great poets from Homer … down to Masefield have tried to evoke the deep mystery and endless fascination of the ocean, but the slender, gentle [Carson] seems to have the best of it. Once or twice in a generation does the world get a physical scientist with literary genius. … Miss Carson has written a classic." The shy, private Carson put up with a few luncheons to promote the book but just as quickly returned to the edge of the sea.

In December, RCA-Victor released Debussy's La Mer, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, with a commentary written by Carson; women's page editors across the nation voted her "Woman of the Year in Literature"; and RKO wanted to turn the book into a documentary. (They did; she hated the film because of scientific errors in the script; and it won an Oscar in 1953.) In January 1952, she was awarded the Henry G. Bryant medal of the Philadelphia Geographical Society, the first conferred on a woman; that same month, she received the National Book Award for best nonfiction book of 1951. "The truth is," she told an ex-classmate as she stood through one of many reception lines, "I'm much more at home … on shipboard in sneakers than on hardwood floors in high heels."

With her success, Carson bought a tract of wooded land in West Southport, Maine, along the west shore of Boothbay Harbor. There she built a one-story cottage, just above the rocks overlooking Sheepscot Bay. Carson could be found investigating tidal flats or tide pools at low tide with pail in hand, a hat on to protect her fair skin, binoculars dangling from around her neck, and specimen bottles, a magnifying glass, a spiral notebook, and camera, all contained in a canvas sack slung across her shoulder. In Southport, she met Stanley and Dorothy Freeman , who wintered in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, but summered in a cottage about a half mile down the shore. Kindred spirits, they became fast friends. A large egg-shaped tide pool in one of the beach rocks could be seen from the Freeman house. "On clear nights," wrote Sterling, "Rachel and the Freemans sometimes sat on the seaward verandah to watch the moon. They would follow its steady progress as it lighted point after point along the water. When at last the moon could see itself reflected in the tide pool, they would applaud."

For Rachel and Dorothy it was far more than friendship. Their letters, begun in 1952, were published in 1995 by Dorothy's daughter Martha, as Always, Rachel. In 1954, Rachel wrote Dorothy for their yearly Christmas eve missive:

I have been remembering that my very first message to you was a Christmas greeting. Christmas, 1952. … I didn't know then that you would claim my heart—that I would freely give you a lifetime's love and devotion. I had at least some idea of that when Christmas came again, in 1953. Now I know, and you know. … We passed through a phase when we asked "why" and tried to find reasons and explanations for this wonderful experience. I am glad to remember we decided long ago that there was something beyond the sum of all the "reasons" we could put forth—a mystery beyond all explainable mysteries.

Carson took another leave of absence from her government job and started The Edge of the Sea for editor Paul Brooks at Houghton Mifflin, to be illustrated by Hines. Meanwhile, with the success of The Sea Around Us, Oxford reissued Under the Sea Wind. She now had two books on the bestseller list simultaneously. Finally financially solvent, Carson resigned from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published in 1955, The Edge of the Sea, which described three living eco-communities along the Atlantic coast, was almost as successful: 23 weeks on the bestseller list. In 1956, Carson purchased a plot of land in Silver Spring, and was in the process of building a house for her extended family: her ailing 89-year-old mother, now crippled with arthritis, an ailing and unmarried Marjorie, and Marjorie's small son Roger Christie. For someone who meant to be unfettered in order to write, Carson had a great deal of responsibility. She was catching frequent colds and losing weight. On January 30, 1957, her young niece Marjorie succumbed to complications from diabetes, and Carson officially adopted Marjorie's five-year-old son Roger Christie.

Grandaunt and grandnephew already possessed a loving and close relationship, a hint of which might be found in the opening of A Sense of Wonder:

One stormy night when my nephew Roger was about 20 months old I wrapped him in a blanket and carried him down to the beach in the rainy darkness. Out there, just at the edge of where-we-couldn't-see, big waves were thundering in, dimly seen white shapes that boomed and shouted and threw great handfuls of froth at us. Together we laughed for pure joy—he a baby meeting for the first time the tumult of Oceanus, I with the salt of a half a lifetime of sea love in me. But I think we felt the same spine-tingling response to the vast, roaring ocean and the wild night around us.

But this majesty was being threatened. The postwar era had brought chemical sludge, nuclear waste in leaking containers beneath the ocean floor, unfiltered sewage pouring into streams and lakes. As far back as 1946, Elmer Higgins had warned of the dangers of DDT (dichlorodiphenyl-trichloro-ethane) to fish and wildlife. Carson had long been aware of the dangers and had often expressed a desire to tackle the subject, but none of her editors had shown interest.

In January 1958, Carson received a letter from Olga Owens Huckins , a friend and book editor for The Boston Post: "The mosquito control plane flew over our small town last summer. Since we live close to the marshes we were treated to several lethal doses. … The 'harmless' show bath killed seven of our lovely song-birds outright." Though Huckins scrubbed the bird bath thoroughly, "YOU CAN NEVER KILL DDT," she added. "On the following day one robin dropped suddenly from a branch in our woods. … All of these birds died horribly." Air spraying, summarized Huckins, was "inhuman, undemocratic, and probably unconstitutional."

Then a Long Island group fought against the spraying of DDT in their area for gypsy moths; they lost. The spraying went forth anyway, saturating gardens, ponds, and humans with DDT. Birds, fish, crabs, and a family horse were found dead. Carson urged fellow-writer E.B. White to "take up your pen against this nonsense." White, who had other commitments, reversed the plea, encouraging her to take up the cause. "I could never again listen happily to a thrush song if I had not done all I could," she wrote.

For the rest of 1958, she pored over books and papers on pesticide. That December, her mother died just shy of her 90th birthday. "Her love of life and of all living things was her outstanding quality," Carson wrote Freeman. "And while gentle and compassionate, she could fight fiercely against anything she believed wrong." Rachel might have been describing herself. Dorothy Freeman dreaded the clamor the DDT book would provoke and feared for Rachel. Before it was remotely near completion, corporations were threatening lawsuits. On June 28, 1958, Rachel wrote Dorothy: "You do know, I think, how deeply I believe in the importance of what I am doing. Knowing what I do, there would be no future peace for me if I keep silent. I wish I could feel that you want me to do it." Rachel checked and double checked her data. Fighting fatigue, she wrote through, "a catalogue of illnesses," flu, a sinus infection, heart trouble, arthritis, and an ulcer. In 1960, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery that April. Carson felt an urgent need to finish the book and judiciously conserved her energy in order to wade through the mountain of technical research and correspondence she had accumulated for her "extremely complex jigsaw puzzle." Collecting evidence, seeking to build up an incontrovertible case against the use of chemicals as they were then being used, she felt like she was running as fast as she could to stay in place.

The surgery had not been entirely successful; the cancer mestastisized. She told her publisher it was arthritis, and only a few friends knew the truth. I know "that if my time were to be limited," she wrote Dorothy, "the thing I wanted above all else was to finish this book." Finally, after four years, the book was completed. Silent Spring was slated to appear initially between the pages of The New Yorker in June 1961 as a condensation in three-weekly installments. Exhausted and apprehensive, Carson sent the pages to The New Yorker. When its editor William Shawn called one evening, "Suddenly I knew from his reaction that my message would get across," a relieved Carson wrote Freeman. "After Roger was asleep, I took Jeffie [the cat] into the study and played the Beethoven violin concerto—one of my favorites, you know. And suddenly the tension of four years was broken and I let the tears come."

Carson opened Silent Spring by drawing a deadly picture of what one American town would be like if chemical spraying continued unabated. At first, the town lives in harmony with its surroundings: "the orchards, the foxes, the deer, the birds." One day "everywhere was a shadow of death."

There was a strange stillness. … In the gutters under the eaves and between the shingles of the roofs, a white granular powder still showed a few patches; some weeks before it had fallen like snow upon the roofs and the lawns, the fields and the streams. No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.

In many areas of America, she wrote, this was not science fiction. The voices of spring were truly being silenced.

Pesticides, she pointed out, not only killed pests, but birds, fish, and small animals, rabbits, squirrels, muskrats, ladybugs, beetles that eat spider mites. Pesticides infiltrated the river systems, the water supply, the soil, and life's food chain. DDT could be found in fish in Japan, seals in the antarctic, stored in the fatty tissue of animals, poultry, cattle, and in sprayed vegetables. Carson was not against pest control, a fact intentionally ignored by future foes. Instead, she recommended biological ways to kill pests, including sterilization and ultrasonic vibrations.

The New Yorker appearance resulted in an avalanche of mail to Congress and other federal agencies, long before the book's official end-of-September publication. William Proxmire, in the Senate, and John V. Lindsay, in the House, read sections into the Congressional Record. Citing Carson's book, President John F. Kennedy formed a group to look into the pesticide issue. U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas called Silent Spring "the most important chronicle of this century." Many years before, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle had changed the face of the meat-packing industry. Silent Spring was about to alter the course of pesticide forever.

Though many scientists applauded her scholarship, the chemical and food-processing industry, standing to lose millions, threw much of its power and money at Carson, poring carefully over the pages of Silent Spring, looking for cracks, minute errors they could enlarge to cloud the debate. Unable to refute her allegations, they dismissed her science background. They portrayed her as an alarmist, a middle-aged kook, a communist, a new-age faddist, one far out of the American mainstream, threatening Americans who needed these chemicals to protect their quality of life. Mostly, they called her hysterical. Governmental backing for her ideas was slow to come. The chemical industry had effectively lobbied the government for years. Since the Department of Agriculture had championed pesticides, it found it hard to back down now. Only the Department of the Interior sided with Carson, admitting that there were questions that needed to be answered. For that, the Department of the Interior came under fire.

To those who would drown out her truths in diversions, a seriously ill Carson had no choice but to respond through essays, interviews, articles, and correspondence. Though she shrugged off personal attacks, she felt compelled to answer attacks on her scientific stand one by one. From September to December, her calendar was a jumble of luncheons, talks, lectures. In a speech to the Women's National Press Club on December 5, she said:

One obvious way to try to weaken a cause is to discredit the person who champions it. So the masters of invective and insinuation have been busy: I am a bird lover—a cat lover—a fish lover—a priestess of nature—a devotee of a mystical cult having to do with laws of the universe which my critics consider themselves immune to.

Their methods, she noted, were to attack statements she never made. Thus to their claim that she was against controlling insects, she countered that it was only because the industry controlled them badly and dangerously. In 1963, two years after the first publication of Silent Spring, the United States sprinkled, sprayed, and dropped 900 million pounds of pesticides on the land.

But Carson was growing weaker and weaker, canceling major appearances throughout March of 1963. On April 3, CBS News presented "The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson," in which Carson, filmed earlier at her Maryland home, went head-to-head with Dr. Robert White-Stevens, research executive for the American Cyanamid Company. White-Stevens suggested that her book was one of gross distortion, that she preferred the dark ages. Once again, Carson maintained that it was not her aim to rule out pesticides, but to use them after their hazards had been thoroughly investigated. She claimed that the nation was being fed "tranquilizing pills of half truths." On the same show, three government representatives found themselves agreeing with her by program's end, calling for stricter control and more investigation. White-Stevens was the lone hold out, claiming that balance of nature was not a major force in the survival of man; man, he said, had effectively disrupted the balance of nature with its cities, roads, and lifestyle. For that reason, the modern scientist was learning to control nature. Carson replied that to some people, "the balance of nature is something that was repealed as soon as man came on the scene. You might just as well assume that you could repeal the law of gravity." There is nothing wrong with trying to tilt the balance of nature in people's favor, noted Carson, but, if we do, we had better know what we're doing.

The president's advisory report was issued on May 15; in essence, though it was careful to skirt any bias against chemicals, the report agreed with her, and CBS aired, "The Verdict on 'The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson.'" At show's end, Eric Sevareid wrapped it up:

Miss Carson is a scientist and a poet of nature. The men who wrote this report are scientists, period. [Her] book and this report deal with the same facts, the same issues. The first was a cry of alarm from a quietly passionate woman. The second is a sober warning by dispassionate judges. But the cry and the warning bear the same essential message: There is danger in the air, and in the waters and in the soil, and the leaves and the grass.

Senator Abraham Ribicoff began governmental hearings. The first week Stewart Udall sat before the Senate subcommittee on "Activities Relating to the Use of Pesticides" and testified that though her "critics have protested the inadequacy of certain data cited in her book, they have not, to my knowledge, challenged the fact that she raises genuine issues." Two weeks later, on June 4, 1963, Carson gave testimony. At the end of the day, Senator Ernest Gruening of Alaska addressed her: "Miss Carson, every once in a while in the history of mankind a book has appeared which has substantially altered the course of history. … Your book is of that important character, and I feel you have rendered a tremendous service."

That summer, Rachel Carson returned to the quiet of her home in Maine, then to her home in Silver Spring for the winter; soon the 56-year-old was using a cane, then a wheelchair, the cancer having spread to her bones. Each day's mail contained the announcement of an award. "Now all the 'honors' have to be received for me by someone else," she wrote Dorothy on March 2, 1963. "And all the opportunities to travel to foreign lands—all expenses paid—have to be passed up. Sweden is the latest." In January 1964, she shared Dorothy's loss when Stanley Freeman died of a heart attack. In February, Rachel underwent another round of surgery, then returned home under a nurse's care. She died on April 14, 1964, age 56, 18 months after the publication of Silent Spring. Before she died, Rachel left two notes for Dorothy to be delivered after her death; one closed with, "Never forget, dear one, how deeply I have loved you all these years. Rachel."

Rachel Carson's childhood home in Pennsylvania is open to the public. The Rachel Carson Seacoast Preserve, a wildlife refuge along the Maine coast proposed by the Secretary of the Interior Walter Hickel, was dedicated in 1970. In 1979, a young falcon named Rachel was one of three released into the wild to forestall the extinction of its species. The following year, President Jimmy Carter awarded Rachel Carson the Presidential Medal of Freedom; it was accepted by Roger Christie.


Freeman, Martha, ed. Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman, 1952–1964. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1995.

Sterling, Philip. Sea and Earth: The Life of Rachel Carson. NY: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1970.

Wadsworth, Ginger. Rachel Carson: Voice for the Earth (juvenile). MN: Lerner, 1992.

suggested reading:

Lear, Linda. Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature. NY: Henry Holt, 1997.

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Carson, Rachel (1907–1964)

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