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Rachel Carson
2008 Icon

Environmental Pioneer

b. May 27, 1907

d. April 14, 1964

If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.

Rachel Carson was a writer and research biologist credited with establishing the environmental movement. Carson brought public attention to the need to regulate industry and protect the environment.

She was raised in rural Springdale, Pennsylvania, where she and her mother explored woods and springs, and enjoyed bird watching. She claimed her most enduring childhood memory was a desire to become a writer.

In 1929, Carson graduated from the Pennsylvania College for Women (now known as Chatham College) with a degree in zoology. She earned a master’s degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932.

Carson is best known for her book “Silent Spring” (1962), a meticulously researched work about the dangers of the indiscriminate use of pesticides. Though the book sparked fierce opposition from the chemical industry, it succeeded at raising public awareness. President Kennedy ordered an investigation. As a result, the pesticide DDT was banned.

While battling cancer, Carson continued her efforts to bring attention to environmental issues. She spoke out on the need for an independent government regulatory agency to monitor environmental degradation and its effects on human health. Her activism led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Chatham College established the Rachel Carson Institute to promote “awareness and understanding of significant and current environmental issues.” In 1980, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor.