Marine biologist RACHEL CARSON was born on this date. She was born in Springdale, Pennsylvania and spent the majority of her life outside of Washington, DC with summers in Maine. She is best known as the author of Silent Spring, which is considered one of the foundational documents for the modern environmental movement.
Silent Spring, published in 1962, awakened society to its responsibility to other forms of life. Carson had long been aware of the dangers of chemical pesticides and also the controversy within the agricultural community. She had long hoped someone else would publish an expose’ on DDT but eventually realized that only she had the background as well as the economic freedom to do it.
Silent Spring provoked a firestorm of controversy as well as attacks on Carson’s professional integrity. The pesticide industry mounted a massive campaign to discredit Carson even though she did not urge the complete banning of pesticides but called for research to ensure pesticides were used safely and to find alternatives to dangerous chemicals such as DDT.
The federal government, however, ordered a complete review of pesticide policy and Carson was asked to testify before a Congressional committee. As a direct result of that review, DDT was banned. With the publication of Silent Spring, Carson is credited with launching the contemporary environmental movement and awakening concern by Americans about the environment.
She died from cancer in 1964 at the age of 57. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service named one of its refuges near Carson’s summer home on the coast of Maine as “the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge” in 1969 to honor the memory of this extraordinary woman.
In the early 1950s Carson moved with her mother to Southport Island, Maine and subsequently began a extremely close relationship with a neighbor Dorothy Freeman. The relationship would last the rest of Carson’s life. The two women had a number of common interests, nature chief among them, and began exchanging letters regularly while apart. They would continue to share every summer for the remainder of Carson’s life, and meet whenever else their schedules permitted. Carson and Freeman knew that their letters could be interpreted as lesbian.
Freeman shared parts of Carson’s letters with her husband to help him understand the relationship, but much of their correspondence was carefully guarded. Shortly before Carson’s death, she and Freeman destroyed hundreds of letters. The surviving correspondence was published in 1995 as Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman, 1952–1964: An Intimate Portrait of a Remarkable Friendship, edited by Freeman’s granddaughter.