Rachel Carson

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Rachel Carson : biography

May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964

Carson is also a frequent namesake for prizes awarded by philanthropic, educational and scholarly institutions. The Rachel Carson Prize, founded in Stavanger, Norway in 1991, is awarded to women who have made a contribution in the field of environmental protection. The American Society for Environmental History has awarded the Rachel Carson Prize for Best Dissertation since 1993.. Retrieved September 11, 2007. Since 1998, the Society for Social Studies of Science has awarded an annual Rachel Carson Book Prize for "a book length work of social or political relevance in the area of science and technology studies.". Retrieved September 11, 2007.

Centennial events

2007 was the centennial of Carson’s birth. On Earth Day (April 22, 2007), Courage for the Earth: Writers, Scientists, and Activists Celebrate the Life and Writing of Rachel Carson was released as "a centennial appreciation of Rachel Carson’s brave life and transformative writing", thirteen essays by prominent environmental writers and scientists.. Retrieved September 23, 2007. Democratic Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland had intended to submit a resolution celebrating Carson for her "legacy of scientific rigor coupled with poetic sensibility" on the 100th anniversary of her birth. The resolution was blocked by Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who said that "The junk science and stigma surrounding DDT—the cheapest and most effective insecticide on the planet—have finally been jettisoned." The Rachel Carson Homestead Association held a May 27 birthday party and sustainable feast at her birthplace and home in Springdale, Pennsylvania, and the first Rachel Carson Legacy Conference in Pittsburgh with E.O. Wilson as keynote speaker. Both Rachel’s Sustainable Feast and the conference continue as annual events.

Life and work

Early life and education

Carson was born on May 27, 1907, on a small family farm near Springdale, Pennsylvania, just up the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh. She was the daughter of Maria Frazier (McLean) and Robert Warden Carson, an insurance salesman.http://www.une.edu/mwwc/research/featuredwriters/carsonr.cfm An avid reader, she also spent a lot of time exploring around her family’s farm. She began writing stories (often involving animals) at age eight, and had her first story published at age eleven. She especially enjoyed the St. Nicholas Magazine (which carried her first published stories), the works of Beatrix Potter, and the novels of Gene Stratton Porter, and in her teen years, Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad and Robert Louis Stevenson. The natural world, particularly the ocean, was the common thread of her favorite literature. Carson attended Springdale’s small school through tenth grade, then completed high school in nearby Parnassus, Pennsylvania, graduating in 1925 at the top of her class of forty-five students.

At the Pennsylvania College for Women (today known as Chatham University), as in high school, Carson was somewhat of a loner. She originally studied English, but switched her major to biology in January 1928, though she continued contributing to the school’s student newspaper and literary supplement. Though admitted to graduate standing at Johns Hopkins University in 1928, she was forced to remain at the Pennsylvania College for Women for her senior year due to financial difficulties; she graduated magna cum laude in 1929. After a summer course at the Marine Biological Laboratory, she continued her studies in zoology and genetics at Johns Hopkins in the fall of 1929.

After her first year of graduate school, Carson became a part-time student, taking an assistantship in Raymond Pearl’s laboratory, where she worked with rats and Drosophila, to earn money for tuition. After false starts with pit vipers and squirrels, she completed a dissertation project on the embryonic development of the pronephros in fish. She earned a master’s degree in zoology in June 1932. She had intended to continue for a doctorate, but in 1934 Carson was forced to leave Johns Hopkins to search for a full-time teaching position to help support her family. In 1935, her father died suddenly, leaving Carson to care for her aging mother and making the financial situation even more critical. At the urging of her undergraduate biology mentor Mary Scott Skinker, she settled for a temporary position with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, writing radio copy for a series of weekly educational broadcasts entitled "Romance Under the Waters". The series of fifty-two seven-minute programs focused on aquatic life and was intended to generate public interest in fish biology and in the work of the bureau—a task the several writers before Carson had not managed. Carson also began submitting articles on marine life in the Chesapeake Bay, based on her research for the series, to local newspapers and magazines.