Rachel Carson: A Conservation Legacy
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It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know of wonder and humility.
– Rachel Carson

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Rachel Carson's Life and Legacy

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Rachel Carson portrait from 1940sMay 27, 2007 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rachel Carson, one of the world’s foremost leaders in conservation. Her work as an educator, scientist and writer revolutionized America’s interest in environmental issues. Whether it was her passion for the oceans and coasts, her inspiration as one of the first female scientists and government leaders, or her overall footprint on the history of conservation, her legacy is certainly one to be honored and celebrated. Learn more about the life of Rachel Carson.

Meet Rachel Carson in this short video.

Rachel Carson's influence in conservation, a video discussion by Shane Mahoney, Executive Director of Sustainable Development and Strategic Science at the Department of Environment and Conservation for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador


Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson

We're holding events around the country to celebrate Rachel Carson. Here are some upcoming events. Check back soon for more events.

Rachel Carson National Exhibit

The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster, Massachusetts will host a major Rachel Carson Centenial exhibition, to run from May 18 through November 30, 2007. The show is a centennial year partnership project of the Museum and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and will feature artifacts, writings, photographs, and artwork from Carson's life and career.Photo Highlights  Video Highlights (Quicktime file)

The exhibit will focus on Carson's life, beginning as a Pennsylvania girl, Woods Hole biology student, and Washington bureaucrat in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by an examination of her environmental legacy, beginning with the publication of Silent Spring in 1962 and continuing into contemporary issues still at the forefront of American conservation. Three specialized areas in the museum's main hallway will profile Rachel Carson as scientist, writer, and conservationist.

Cape Cod was selected as the site of the Service’s 2007 Carson exhibition because of her relationship with Cape Cod, where she studied at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1929. The museum’s auditorium will be used as the venue for the public exhibition of the original Howard Frech artwork that graced Carson’s first book, Under the Sea-Wind, in 1941, and for two stagings of the Kaiulani Lee play, “A Sense of Wonder,” as well as for public lectures, receptions, and special events between May and November.

The show will draw heavily on materials that were included in a 1999 national Rachel Carson exhibition at the Ward Museum of Wild Fowl Art in Salisbury, Maryland.

The National Key Deer Wildlife Refuge in Florida will house an exhibit on Rachel Carson, display a tapestry with a quote from Rachel Carson, and issue a public service announcement about the centennial celebration. In addition, the Friends group may have some of her books for sale. Contact is Jim Bell at 305-872-0774.

Online Book Club

The Rachel Carson Online Book Club, sponsored by the Friends of the National Conservation Training Center, provides a forum for dialogue and discussion about current environmental issues through the study of Rachel Carson’s writing.

Each month features one of Rachel Carson’s books and a distinguished moderator to guide the online discussion. The moderators are leaders in their fields and hail from the various disciplines embodied in Rachel Carson’s remarkable career. Writers, marine biologists, environmental historians, toxicologists, journalists, and educators share unique perspectives through a discussion designed to consider Rachel Carson’s legacy of conservation and how that legacy will shape the future for upcoming generations.

At the end the discussion, participants are encouraged to revive their own sense of wonder by visiting a national wildlife refuge or some other special place where they can experience the natural world first hand. In doing so, people are personally inspired to continue the conservation ethic that Rachel Carson, through her life and work, helped instill in the American consciousness.

the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge


“A Sense of Place” – The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge

Beginning in 1952, Rachel Carson spent her summers at Southport Island, Maine, where she studied the beach and tide pools for The Edge of the Sea in 1955. A Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge near Carson's summer home was renamed the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge (shown in photo at left) in 1969 to honor the memory of this extraordinary woman.

What makes the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge a special place? Find out in this short video. (Windows Media format)

The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. USFWS photo

“Summer Saturdays”

Dworshak Fisheries Complex in Idaho is kicking off their "Summer Saturdays" program on May 26, 2007 with a special day dedicated to Rachel Carson. The field office will have a poster display and host a special program to include a Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species video, select quotes from Silent Spring and a Sense of Wonder, and arts and crafts activities for families. Contact Susan Sawyer at 208-476-4591 ext.253 for more information.

Kids in the Creek

Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery in Washington will feature Rachel Carson at upcoming events including Kids in the Creek in May, Kids Fishing Days in June, and Salmon Fest in September. By sharing information about Rachel Carson at these scheduled events and with visitors that tour the hatchery, staff will highlight Carson's inspiring work to several thousand people of all ages. Contact Corky Broaddus at 509-548-7641.

Join in the Celebration

If you're looking for something closer to home, check your local zoos, schools, or nature centers. Or host your own party or other special event. See lots of great ideas in our Rachel Carson toolkit.

  • Using articles written by Rachel Carson as part of the Conservation in Action series, students compare resource management in the 1940s and 50s with current refuge and resource management. The training highlights Carson’s views found in The Sense of Wonder on introducing young children to nature and developing in them a sense of wonder and curiosity about the natural world. Her hope was that a sense of stewardship for the environment would develop in children. Lessons include Guarding our Wildlife Resources, Parker River, and Chincoteague.
  • Go outside and explore the wonders of our natural world at a National Wildlife Refuge, a local park or even your own backyard.
  • Volunteer with a local conservation organization to help conserve wildlife habitat.
  • Read one of Carson’s books and pass the conservation message along to a friend or family member.
  • Join a Rachel Carson book club to discuss her writings with others.
  • Explore a career in natural resources or wildlife conservation.
  • Make your own Rachel Carson documentary, just like high school student Kristen Cronon.

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The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson

Her Early Life

Rachel Carson was born in a small rural Pennsylvania community near the Allegheny River, where she spent a great deal of time exploring the forests and streams around her 65-acre farm. She was first published at the age of ten in a children's magazine dedicated to the work of young writers.

The College Years

In 1925, Carson entered Pennsylvania College for Women as an English major determined to become a writer, but switched to biology midway through her studies. Upon graduation from Pennsylvania College, she was awarded a scholarship to complete graduate work in biology at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, an enormous accomplishment for a woman in 1929.

The Beginning of a Legacy

Carson's distinction in writing and biology led to a job with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) in 1936. She created a series of seven-minute radio spots on marine life called “Romance Under the Waters.”

During her 15-year career with the Service, she also wrote numerous pamphlets and bulletins on conservation, one of the most well-known a series called Conservation in Action – devoted to exploring wildlife and ecology on national wildlife refuges.

Read Remembering Rachel (pdf). Fish and Wildlife Service employees give their perspectives on the legacy of Rachel Carson.

The Conservation In Action Series

Meanwhile, she continued to submit writings on conservation and nature to newspapers and magazines, urging people to regulate the “forces of destruction” and consider always the welfare of the “fish as well as that of the fisherman.”During her free time, Carson wrote books about her government research.

The Books

Her first book, Under the Sea-Wind was published in 1941, and highlighted her unique ability to present deeply intricate scientific material in clear poetic language that captivated readers and sparked their interest in the natural world.

The Sea Around Us was published in 1951 and remained on the New York Times’ best-seller list for 81 weeks. The success of her second book prompted Carson to resign her position with the Service in 1952 to devote all her time to writing. The Sea Around Us along with The Edge of the Sea, a third book published in 1956, provided a new perspective on conservation to concerned environmentalists.

An Environmental Revolution

Silent Spring book coverHer final book, 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.

Carson once said that "man's endeavors to control nature by his powers to alter and to destroy would inevitably evolve into a war against himself, a war he would lose unless he came to terms with nature." 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.

Watch this video to learn more about DDT and Rachel Carson.

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For More Information

Visit the sites of our partners and other organizations celebrating the Rachel Carson Centennial

Check back soon for more on what the Fish and Wildlife Service is doing to honor the memory and accomplishments of Rachel Carson.

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Last updated: December 28, 2007

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