I was living in Baltimore, Maryland in 1962, finishing a year of what the Sulpician Fathers called Solitude, which was the last step before being becoming a Sulpician priest, and teach in a seminary. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring came out in September of 1962. A friend of mine sent me a copy of Carson’s book. At first I didn’t think it was an appropriate book to read, since the daytime in Solitude was filled with spiritual reading and I didn’t have time for a book about environmentalism. How wrong I was! But I didn’t know that at that time. It wasn’t until several years ago when I replaced my copy of Silent Spring.
It was only then that I could agree with the words of former vice president and almost president Al Gore, “Rachel Carson was one of the reasons why I became so conscious of the environment and so involved with environmental issues.” I also I agree with reviewer Walter Sullivan and many others who “… compare Silent Spring to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the most controversial American book of the nineteenth century. Silent Spring inspired immediate outrage and opposition. ”
First let me give you Rachel Carson’s Website. As you’ll see she was born on May 27, 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania. At an early age, she had a great ambition to be a writer, but at college she switched from her major in English to biology. She earned a master’s degree in zoology from John Hopkins University in 1932 but her doctoral studies were interrupted due to the Great Depression. “She took a job as a biologist with the US Bureau of Fisheries—and later the US Fish and Wildlife Service—and wrote and edited informational material for the public.”
Silent Spring was not the first book that Carson wrote; Under the Sea-Wind was published in 1941. Sea Around Us, her second book, published in 1952 and it was an unbelievable success. It became a bestseller and stayed on the list for a eighty-six weeks.
After her success with her previous books she turned her attention to a problem with which she had concerned for over a decade—the use of dangerous new chemicals in agriculture and pest control. From there she wrote Silent Spring.
Sadly, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and according to her website “…she hid her illness from the public while she defended her book on television, at congressional hearings, and before many audiences. Silent Spring was published on September 27, 1962 and she died at home in Silver Spring, Maryland, at the age of fifty-six.”
According to Margaret Atwood’s article in the Guardian, Silent Spring also “…met with furious resistance, chiefly from the big chemical companies and the scientists in their employ.” These were scientists concerned with DDT and other pesticides. To give you a few examples, here is video Rachel Carson: Impact of Silent Spring . It was published on April 18, 2013, and has historical clips on DDT.
Another example is The Power of One Voice. This is a perspective of Rachel Carson’s life as a groundbreaking documentary, examining her life and the profound implications of her environmental work. The 52-minute film features interviews with Rachel Carson’s adopted son, Roger Christie, her biographer, Linda Lear, and other notable writers, scientists, and advocates.
Today, Rachel Carson remains a role model and inspiration for people across the globe, even as the controversy created by her challenge to the chemical industry continues. By highlighting the power of Carson’s voice, they hope to inspire others to add their voices to this essential conversation.
Despite the deniers when she published Silent Spring, “Rachel Carson is recognized around the world as the Mother of the Modern Environmental Movement,” even as she has continued to be attacked in the 21st Century by those who misrepresent her message of Silent Spring.
This article by Margaret Atwood Rachel Carson’s Book, 50 Years on, fifty years after Silent Spring was published, wonders “…what would Carson have said about the spraying of dispersants during the Gulf Spill?” Or “What would she have said about the rapidly melting Arctic ice or about the plans to shove a pipeline through the Great Bear rainforest to the Pacific Shore?” The article goes on that “She would have seen many signs of hope…”
As Time magazine put it in 1999: “Before there was an environmental movement, there was one brave woman and her very brave book.”
“A Who’s Who of pesticides is therefore of concern to us all. If we are going to live so intimately with chemicals eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones—we had better know something about their nature and their power.” –Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
“How could intelligent beings seek to control a few species a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind? Yet this is precisely what we have done. We have done it, moreover, for reasons that collapse the moment we examine them.” –Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
May we all see those same signs of hope and follow in the footprints of Rachel Carson!