Ladies I Love: R is for Rachel Carson – Scientist, Conservationist and Writer

USFWS Employee PhotoToday’s A to Z Challenge post is brought to you by the letter R.  R stands for Rachel Carson, one of the Ladies I Love in the field of science.  If you don’t know who Rachel Carson was, as a female biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I am very proud to be able to tell you a little bit about her.

Rachel Carson lived between 1907 and 1964.  She was fascinated by nature during her younger years, and went on to obtain her master’s degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932.  Soon after, she got a job with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (which would later become the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) where she was one of only TWO professional women working for the organization and earned under $40 PER WEEK when she started.  She did a lot of writing for radio broadcasting at that time, primarily focusing on the ocean in an effort to inform the public about the treasures that marine systems contain and the services that they provide.  She moved up in the Bureau/Service and wrote several books about oceans, which hit the top of best seller lists everywhere.

Click to enlarge!

Click to enlarge!

It was in the mid-1940’s when she learned about DDT.  I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but throughout the next couple of decades, Rachel Carson did a lot of research regarding the effects of DDT on the environment, specifically about bioaccumulation in the food web. In 1962, Rachel Carson published her book “Silent Spring”, which detailed the harmful effects of pesticides and predicted that if our irresponsible use of them continued, we would start killing off species, let alone jeopardize human health.  For example, one of the effects of DDT and bioaccumulation resulted in the inability of some bird species (primarily predatory birds) to successfully reproduce because DDT weakened egg shells, resulting in eggs being crushed in the nest.  Several species (e.g., peregrine falcon, pelican) were put on the Endangered Species list because of this!

Part of a 1947 ad in Time Magazine.

Part of a 1947 ad in Time Magazine.

There was, however, a lot of money in the pesticide industry and tremendously fierce opposition to her work, which publicized the negative effects of DDT on animals and the environment.  If you simply google DDT and look through the videos that come up, you can find old footage of people being happily sprayed by CLOUDS of DDT!  Rachel Carson actually received death threats and harassment because of her work and the questions it raised about the pesticide industry.  In fact, Rachel Carson’s research and work gave rise to the modern grassroots environmental movement that has inspired generations to protect the world around us, AND resulted in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.  After her death (due to illnesses contracted during her treatment for breast cancer), President Carter awarded Rachel Carson the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously for her landmark work, and in 1969, the Coastal Main National Wildlife Refuge was changed to the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

Rachel Carson by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Time & Life Pictures, Getty Images

What an amazing woman and inspiration to younger generations of scientists!  Few scientists can claim the magnitude of influence that she had in any field, and in particular, conservation of our natural resources.  Take a look at this short video about Rachel Carson and her life’s work; there is a ton of information online as well, if you are interested in learning more (just follow any of the links I’ve provided above to start).

Additionally, just this past March (Women’s History Month), the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe, honored Rachel Carson with this video.

24 thoughts on “Ladies I Love: R is for Rachel Carson – Scientist, Conservationist and Writer

    • I know, right? My mom used to be a technical writer for a company who produced and “tested” pesticides for crops, and none of the studies were long-term…so scary what we might see in our older folks who have been chronically exposed to these poisons (not to mention what happens to wildlife)! Thanks for stopping by, Maria! 😀

  1. Excellent choice – we most definitely should be touting these visionary women as role models for young girls. What a wealth of female celebration you are gifting this month!

    • Thanks, Sammy! Rachel Carson was indeed ahead of her time…and none too soon, I fear. There is so much damage we’re still doing to our environment with pesticides and poisons – but things would be way worse without her illuminating work. She is a wonderful role model and was a top-rate conservationist. I hope more women follow in her footsteps! 🙂

      • I can actually remember when the DDT use was very controversial. And Hub tells me about the pesticides snd fertilizers he used to use in high school working for a landscaper. yikes!

        We have learned a lot and I believe most want to do the right thing. It’s hard to strike a balance these days but many things have been improved. Long way to go!

        • Agreed! At least there are regulations in place in some circumstances, and people are much more wary about the effects of exposure to people. Time have changed, but you’re right – there’s a long way to go! 😉

    • Thanks, Donna! She was an amazing woman who did immeasurable good for the environment, and for human health. Glad I could give you a glimpse into who she was! 😀

    • Isn’t it??? Just google vintage DDT and see what comes up – it’s so incredible how accepting (and even enthusiastic) people were about these poisons!!! :mrgreen:

  2. I can imagine the harassment she got as manufacturers, etc felt threatened/intimidated by the work Rachael Carson was doing. She appears to be a remarkable strong woman who sought and created changes that would benefit mankind.

    • You’re absolutely right about that, Michelle – she received an enormous amount of opposition, including harassment, threats, and personal attacks. She was very strong and never wavered in her science and devotion to her work. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

    • You’re very welcome, Eva – I’m glad I could turn you on to Rachel Carson’s work! She wrote several other books as well, so if you like Silent Spring, you might like her other books too. Thanks for stopping by! 😀

  3. Rachel Carson is a fantastic role model for our students. I enjoyed your information and the YouTube contributes. Our 5th grades in my elementary school participate in a living museum- I will make sure Rachel is part of this event.
    A- z blogging

    • Hi Sue! Thanks for stopping by. You’re right – Rachel Carson is a tremendous role model for students. Her science was impeccable, and her ability to communicate with the public was the key in relaying important conservation science to people who cared about the issues. Thank you for making sure your 5th graders get an introduction to who Rachel Carson was! 😀

    • Yes, she was a fantastic writer! Her ability to communicate her work to the public was so important in rallying advocates for conservation, a healthier environment and the critters who rely on it, including the ‘possums. Thanks for stopping by! 😀

    • Thank you! I appreciate you stopping by – are you doing the A to Z Challenge too? I couldn’t find A to Z posts on your website, so let me know where I can find them – I’d like to take a look! 😀

    • Thank you so much! You’re right – we do need more women like her. She’s a great role model and I think her message will be around for a while…we need to keep reminding ourselves of how much we can impact our environment, good and bad. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing my post on your facebook page, Marie! Very appropriate for Earth Day. I appreciate you stopping by and reading about Rachel Carson! 🙂

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