Imagine This: As a child, when other children run away from snakes and spiders, you crouch down to take a closer look. You love everything in nature, but people tell you that you can’t become a scientist because you’re a girl. So what do you do?
You’re born May 27, 1907, the youngest of three children, in Springdale, Pennsylvania, where you grow up in a tiny wooden house with no electricity, heat, or plumbing on sixty-five acres of land.
Your mother, a former school teacher, is an avid reader and shares her knowledge of natural history, botany, and birds with you. She also passes on a deep appreciation of the beauty and mystery of the natural world and a lifelong love of nature and all living things.
While your brother and sister are in school, you and your mother spend your time outdoors walking the woods and orchards, exploring the springs, and naming flowers, birds, and insects. And at night you and your mother hunt for spiders working on webs or moths that venture out while the birds sleep.
Your mother encourages you to use your imagination, and one of your artistic ventures is a little book of animals you draw and color yourself. The book reflects the strong relationship that exists between you and the wild creatures pictured in your book, and you identify all the woodland creatures as your friends.
Your mother remains your best friend and strongest supporter throughout your life. Later on when you’re recognized for your accomplishments both as a scientist and as a writer, you acknowledge that your mother has been the dominant influence in your life.
Because of your family’s meager means, school has never been a happy place for you. You’re teased because of the hand-me-down clothing you wear, and you count the minutes until you can go home and spend your time with your books, the farm animals, your many dogs, and the outdoors. In some ways your family’s marginal economic status makes it easier for you to be independent since you’re under no pressure whatever to conform to the social values of your peers.
Determined to be a writer after high school, you enter the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College). You don’t think you have enough imagination to write fiction, so you turn to biology where there’s always more than enough material for your writing.
After graduating from the Pennsylvania College for Women in 1929, you study at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, and earn your MA in zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932.
In 1936 you take a job as a writer and marine biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (which later becomes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and over the next fifteen years, you’re promoted to staff biologist and editor-in-chief of all their publications. Your enthusiasm for nature is matched only by your love of writing and poetry, and your job enables you to combine both your loves: writing and science.
Your book The Sea Around Us (1952) is so successful that you can retire and become a full-time writer. Your most important book Silent Spring (1962) is about the use of chemical pesticides, and it changes forever the way people think abut their world.
Following four years of research, you’ve identified the devastating and irrevocable hazards of DDT, one of the most powerful pesticides the world has ever known, and you conclude that DDT should be banned. Your book causes a firestorm of controversy and helps set the stage for the U.S. Environmental Movement of the late 20th century.
By the time you die of cancer on April 14, 1964, at age fifty-six, you have become an award-winning scientist and writer and your work has begun a worldwide revolution!
“Most of us walk unseeing through the world.”
Rachel Carson (1907-1964)
Excerpted from They Stood Alone!: 25 Men and Women Who Made a Difference by Sandra McLeod Humphrey
For More about
Giving Back: Your dedication to the beauty and integrity of life continues to inspire new generations to protect the living world and all its creatures.
Did You Know that Rachel Carson had her first story published in a magazine when she was ten years old?
Something to Think about: How do you think not fitting in with her peers during her early school years influenced Rachel Carson, both during her school years and later on in her life?
Willoughby and I hope you enjoyed this week’s true story and will be back next week for another story to inspire you to DARE TO DREAM BIG!