Rachel Carson was a biologist who is recognized by most for her book, Silent Spring. It is with this book, being struck by the destruction of wildlife in her own backyard and her dedication that she fought major corporations, government opposition and other public skeptics to expose the harmful uses of DDT and other chemical pesticides. [Evangelist] Rachel Louise Carson was a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-born zoologist and marine biologist whose landmark book, Silent Spring, is often credited with having launched the global environmental movement. Born in 1907 she took an early interest in writing, exploration, learning, nature and discovery. Much of her inspiration and encouragement came from her mother who taught her about the ponds, fields, and wildlife of the farm she grew up on. Carson was fortunate to attend college and despite financial difficulties continued to obtain her masters in zoology. In 1936 she became the second woman to be hired by the Bureau of Fisheries for a full-time, professional position, as a junior aquatic biologist. Carson had no insight to the impact and change she would bring about in her lifetime. Most notably her written work and advocacy created positive awareness for the detriments happening to our environment due to DDT and other harmful chemicals. [Tailor Made]
At the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, Carson worked on everything from cookbooks to scientific journals and became known for her ruthless insistence on high standards of writing. Early in her career, the head of the Bureau's Division of Scientific Inquiry, who had been instrumental in finding a position for her in the first place [Guru on Your Side], rejected one of Carson's radio scripts because it was "too literary". He suggested that she submit it to the Atlantic Monthly. To Carson's astonishment and delight, it was accepted, and published as "Undersea" in 1937 [External Validation].
Her new celebrity gave her the opportunity to speak out on concerns she felt strongly about [Evangelist]. As early as 1945, Carson and her close colleague Clarence Cottam [Early Adopter] had become alarmed by government abuse of new chemical pesticides such as DDT, in particular the "predator" and "pest" control programs, which were broadcasting poisons with little regard for the welfare of other creatures. That same year, she offered an article to Reader's Digest on insecticide experiments going on at Patuxent, Md., not far from her home in Silver Spring [Hometown Story], Apparently the Digest was not interested [Test the Waters].
The more she learned about pesticides the more appalled she became and her passion to make a change intensified. "I realized that here was the material for a book. What I discovered was that everything which meant most to me as a naturalist was being threatened, and that nothing I could do would be more important" (Quaratiello, 2004). [Evangelist] She used the talents she knew best and began writing Silent Spring in hopes to inform the public of the damages these chemicals were doing and put a ban on these harmful substances [In Your Space, Involve Everyone, Personal Touch]. The four-year task of writing Silent Spring began with a letter from a close friend of Carson's. Olga Owens Huckins, who owned a bird sanctuary told Carson of how it had been sprayed unmercifully by the government [Hometown Story]. The letter asked Carson to immediately use her influence with government authorities to begin an investigation into pesticide use. [Local Sponsor] Carson [Tested the Waters] by seeking to publish an article in a popular magazine but publishers were uninterested, and eventually the project became a book instead. As a renowned author, she was able to ask for and receive the aid of prominent biologists, chemists, pathologists, and entomologists [Ask For Help, Guru on Your Side, External Validation, Connector]. She used Silent Spring to create a mental association in the public's mind between wildlife mortality and over-use of pesticides like dieldrin, toxaphene, and heptachlor [Personal Touch]. Silent Spring was positively reviewed by many outside of the agricultural and chemical science fields, and it became a runaway best seller both in the USA and overseas [External Validation]. Carson was able to continue the fight against pesticides [Sustained Momentum] by making the issue public. In 1963 Carson’s appearance on a CBS TV special in debate with a chemical company spokesman helped spread her campaign. This form of communication with the public opened the eyes of many [Early Majority, Late Majority, Laggards]. Her presence and message to society and the chemical companies in particular had impact and success [Tailor Made, The Right Time, Small Successes].
During the late 1960s, pressure grew within the United States from many people and organizations of varying and influential fields and professions, to effect a ban on DDT. [Involve Everyone, Smell of Success] In January 1971, the U.S. District Court of Appeals ordered William Ruckelshaus, the EPA's first Administrator, to begin the de-registration procedure for DDT. Initially, after a six-month review process, Ruckelshaus rejected an outright ban, however this created public controversy. [Trial Run] The EPA held seven months of hearings in 1971-1972, with scientists giving evidence both for and against the use of DDT. [Guru Review, External Validation] After much advocating, widespread support, and national awareness, Ruckelshaus announced in the summer of 1972 a ban on virtually all uses of DDT in the U.S., where it was classified as an EPA Toxicity Class II substance.
Unfortunately Carson didn’t get to see this achievement because in 1964 she died from breast cancer. She was not a born crusader but an intelligent and dedicated woman [Evangelist] who rose heroically to the occasion. She was rightly confident about her facts as well as her ability to present them. Secure in the approval of her peers [Connector, Early Adopters], she remained remarkably serene in the face of her accusers. Through her hard work and passion Carson caused change for the good, improved our world and brought awareness to those in the dark.
Author: Maggie Clay
Manns, M.L. & Rising, L. (2005). Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas.
Matthiessen, P. (1999, March). Rachel Carson Time. Retrieved February 18, 2007, from http://www.time.com/time/time100/scientist/profile/carson.html.
Quaratiello, A. (2004). Rachel Carson: A Biography. Westport: Greenwood Press.
Reynolds, M. D. (1999). American Women Scientists: 23 Inspiring Biographies. Jefferson: McFarland.