by Yoon Joung Lee
Background and Education
A female marine biologist, Rachel Louis Carson, was born in 1907 on a small farm in Springdale, Pennsylvania. As she spent her childhood exploring around the farm, she became interested in the natural world, especially the ocean. She enjoyed writing stories about what she saw and experienced in the nature, and her first story was published in the St. Nicholas Magazine when she was 10-year-old.
In 1925, with great hope of becoming a writer, she was enrolled as an English major at the Pennsylvania College for Women, which later became Chatham College. However, she switched her major from English to biology in 1928 after a summer fellowship at the U.S. Marine Laboratory in Massachusetts. In 1929, she was awarded a scholarship from Johns Hopkins University to pursue her Master’s degree in biology.
The year of 1935 was a rough time of her life because of a sudden death of her dad who left Carson with her aging mother and significant amount of debts. To be settled, Carson took a temporary writing position for radio show series called “Romance Under the Waters” at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. The series focused on exploring life under the seas and generating public interest in ocean biology and the work of the bureau. She also had published articles for the series about natural history of Chesapeake Bay for local newspapers and magazines including The Baltimore Sun.
After achieving the success as a radio writer, she was offered a full time position by the Bureau of Fisheries, U.S. Department of Commerce as a Junior Aquatic Biologist. She was later promoted to a staff biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by 1946. In 1949, she became the chief editor of all publications for the Bureau.
Her first book, Under the Sea-Wind, was published in 1941. In the book, she showed her unique ability to use poetic language in describing the appearance, behavior and diet of ocean animals such as seabirds and fishes. Her unique writing style enabled her to more vividly describe the life of underworld. As a result, it was also not only in children’s educational materials but also in books for adults. Despite the wide range of public acceptance, the book was sold poorly in its first edition.
Her second book, The Sea Around Us, published in 1951 brought her a huge success as a writer. Since its publication, it had been on the best-seller list in The New York Times for 81 weeks and it was translated into more than 33 languages. The success of her second book prompted her to resign her position at the Service and ultimately led her to focus more on writing.
Her third book was published in 1956. The Edge of the Sea, a book about natural lives in coastal ecosystems, is an easy read even for the general public. In this book, Carson introduces to us various interesting but previously unknown facts such as the size of baby snails, feature of starfish and its unique arms, and the life of Limpet. The book received overwhelmingly positive reviews.
In spite of her personal and family issues including adopting her grand-nephew after a death of her nephew, she still was able to publish her last book, Silent Spring in 1962. This book made Carson to be a well-known writer on natural history and a best-seller writer listed in The New York Times. The book awakened society to have a responsibility to prevent the use of pesticides and other causes of environmental pollution as it warns the use of uncontrolled and unexamined pesticide can be deadly harmful, not only to animals, particularly birds; but also to human beings.
Silent Spring has been called one of the most influential nonfiction books of the twentieth century and Carson was selected by Life magazine as one of the 100 most important Americans of the twentieth century.
She had suffered from breast cancer at her age of 47 and died of a heart attack in 1964 in Silver Spring, Maryland. Although she could not live long enough to witness all the outcomes of her work, her passion for and devotion to the natural environment have became a backbone of the environmental movement and had a positive lasting impact in the field.