PEOPLE IN AMERICA -- a program in Special English on the
Voice of America. Today, Steve Ember and Rich Kleinfeldt tell about scientist
Rachel Carson. Her work started the environmental protection movement in the United States.
Rachel Carson was born on May 27, 1907 in Springdale,
Pennsylvania. Rachel’s father, Robert Carson, was a salesman who invested in
local land. He purchased 26 hectares of land to make a home for his family.
The area was surrounded by fields, trees and streams. The Carson family enjoyed
living in the beautiful, country environment.
Rachel’s mother, Maria Carson, had been a schoolteacher. She loved books. She
also loved nature. Rachel was the youngest of three children. Her sister and
brother were already in school when she was born. So Missus Carson was able to
spend a lot of time with Rachel. She showed Rachel the beauty of nature. She
also taught Rachel a deep love for books. Missus Carson became the most
important influence on Rachel’s life.
Rachel was a quiet child. She liked to read and to write poems and stories.
She was very intelligent. At a very early age she decided she wanted to be a
writer someday. Her first published story appeared in a children’s magazine when
she was ten years old.
Rachel went to the Pennsylvania College for Women. She studied English
because she wanted to become a professional writer. Yet, she felt she did not
have the imagination to write creative stories. She changed her area of study
from English to science after she took a biology course that she liked. Her
professors advised her not to study science. They said there was no future for a
woman in science.
In nineteen twenty-nine, Rachel graduated from college with high honors. She
won a financial award to study at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore,
Maryland. In 1932, she earned a master’s degree in zoology, the scientific study
of animals. She taught zoology at the University of Maryland for a few years.
During the summers, she studied the ocean and its life forms at the Woods Hole
Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts. That is when she became
interested in the mysteries of the sea.
Rachel’s life changed greatly in the middle nineteen thirties. Her father
died suddenly in 1935. He left very little financial support for Rachel’s
mother. It was during the economic decline in the United States called the Great
Depression. Rachel now had to support her mother and herself. She needed more
money than her teaching job could provide. She began part-time work for a
federal government agency, the Bureau of Fisheries in Washington, D.C.
One year later, Rachel’s sister died. Her sister was the mother of two young
girls. Rachel and her mother cared for the girls. Rachel now had to support her
mother, two nieces and herself. Again, she needed a job with better pay.
A full time job for a biologist opened at the United States Bureau of
Fisheries. Rachel Carson was the only woman to try for the position. She had the
highest score of all the people competing for the job.
Miz Carson got the position in August, 1936. She was chosen to work in the
office of the chief of the biology division.
Her first job was to write a series of programs called “Romance Under the
Waters.” The series was broadcast on radio for a year. She continued to write
and edit publications for the Bureau of Fisheries for many years. The bureau was
happy to have a scientist who was also an excellent writer. Rachel Carson
provided information to the public in interesting and understandable ways.
In nineteen forty, the United States Bureau of Fisheries and the Biological
Survey joined to become the Fish and Wildlife Service. Miz Carson continued as
one of the few women employed there as a scientist. The other women worked as
While she was working for the government, Miz Carson wrote at night and on
weekends. In 1937 she wrote a report about sea life. It was called Undersea. It
appeared in the magazine, Atlantic Monthly. An editor at a publishing house
encouraged her to write a book about the sea for the general public. So she did.
Her first book, "Under the Sea Wind," was published in 1941.
In 1948, Miz Carson began working on another book, "The Sea Around Us." It
became her first best-selling book.
Rachel Carson always researched carefully when she wrote. She gathered
information from more than 1,000 places to write "The Sea Around Us." She also
wrote letters to experts all over the world.
"The Sea Around Us" was published in 1951. It was number one on the
best-seller list for more than a year. It won the National Book Award. "The Sea
Around Us" made Rachel Carson famous. The money the book earned eased her
financial responsibilities for the first time in years.
In 1952, Miz Carson was able to leave her job at the Fish and Wildlife
Service and spend her time writing. Miz Carson moved to a home on the coast of
Maine. There she studied the ecology of the sea. Her next book, "The Edge of the
Sea," was published in 1955. It told of the connection of all living creatures
in areas where land and ocean meet.
Rachel Carson’s most famous book, "Silent Spring" was
published in 1962. The idea for the book developed from a suggestion from a
friend. Rachel’s friend owned a protected area for birds. An airplane had flown
over the area where the birds were kept and spread a powerful chemical called
DDT. It was part of a project to control mosquitoes. Many songbirds and harmless
insects were killed by the DDT.
Miz Carson and other scientists were very concerned about the harmful effects
of DDT and other insect-killing chemicals called pesticides. After World War
Two, these poisonous chemicals were widely used to control insects. Pesticides
were sprayed almost everywhere including agricultural fields and communities.
DDT and other pesticides had become popular with the public and the government
because they were so effective. Manufacturing these chemicals had become a huge
Rachel Carson tried to get many magazines interested in publishing a report
about the subject. However, none would agree to publish anything about such a
disputed subject. They said no one wanted to hear that industrial companies
could cause great ecological damage.
Miz Carson believed the public needed to know about this important issue. She
decided to write a book about it. She collected facts from experts from all over
the world. She gathered studies that showed the harmful effects of DDT,
including declining bird populations and increased human cancers.
In her book "Silent Spring," Ms. Carson questioned the right of industrial
companies to pollute without considering the effects on the environment. Miz
Carson argued that this kind of pollution would result in ever-decreasing
populations of birds and other wildlife. She said this would lead to the loss of
the wonderful sounds of nature. The chemical poisoning of the environment, she
said, would cause a silent spring.
The chemical industry felt threatened. Industry spokesmen and other critics
said the book was non-scientific and emotional. They misunderstood the message
of the book. Miz Carson did not suggest that all pesticides be banned. She urged
that control of these substances be given to biologists who could make informed
decisions about the risks involved.
Support for the book increased. By the end of 1962, there were more than
forty bills in state legislatures proposing to control pesticides. Finally, in
November, 1969, the United States government ruled that the use of DDT must stop
in two years.
Rachel Carson did not live to see how her book influenced the government’s
decision to ban DDT. She died of breast cancer in 1964. She was 56 years old.
Two memorials honor Rachel Carson. One is the Rachel Carson National Wildlife
Refuge in Maine. The other is the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale,
Pennsylvania, the home she lived in when she was a child. Education programs are
offered there that teach children and adults about her environmental values.
Rachel Carson’s voice is alive in her writings that express the wonder and
beauty of the natural world. And her worldwide influence continues through the
activities of the environmental protection movement she started.
This Special English program was written by Lawan Davis. It was produced by
Paul Thompson. Your announcers were Steve Ember and Rich Kleinfeldt. I’m Faith
Lapidus. Join us again next week for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the
Voice of America.