In honor of Women’s History Month, I want to remind us all of Rachel Carson, born in 1907 to a traveling salesman and a piano teacher, grew up on a small farm that nurtured her special admiration for nature. Her mother, a former school teacher, introduced her to great literature, as well as a love for the outdoors. Rachel was the only one in her family to graduate from high school. Her enrollment in a four year college brought additional financial hardship to an already strapped household. China was sold. Acreage was liquidated. More piano students were recruited. Four years later, with a degree in Biology and a flare for writing, Rachel was admitted to a PhD program on full scholarship.
As her families financial situation worsened and her father’s health deteriorated, Rachel moved her family in with her — her aging parents, her two adult siblings and her sister’s two daughters. At the beginning of the Great Depression, her brother and sister struggled to find employment, leaving Rachel as the primary provider. She cut her course work in half and took a job as a lab assistant.
In 1932, at the age of 25, Rachel was awarded her Master’s degree in zoology at a time when women were not represented among scientist. As she moved toward her doctorate, she continued to financially support her extended household. About the time Rachel’s sister was diagnosed with diabetes, Rachel’s brother decided to move out taking his small but meaningful income with him. Rachel withdrew from school to find a full time job. Months and months of searching turned up nothing.
A year and a half after her sister’s diagnosis, her father died of an heart attack. She still did not have full time employment. Two days a week she wrote a script for a government educational radio program about the sea. The success of the program prompted her to try the same thing for the general public —translating scientific material into comprehensible and interesting material for the nonscientific reader. She was published in magazines and newspapers which brought her many accolades. This, as it would later be revealed, was what Rachel was designed for — translating scientific material to the general public. In June 1936, she was the second women to be hired by the Bureau of Fisheries as a full time scientist.
This is only the beginning of Rachel’s story but we can already so many moments when she must have felt overwhelmed, frustrated, disappointed. She never resigned herself to settle for what her emotions were dictating. She continued to press forward and when she did, she stumbled upon a way in which she would forever change the world. (Keep watching the blog for more of her story.)