Rachel Carson, among the earliest female scientist, discovered she was designed to take scientific material and translate it into understandable writing that peaked the interest of the non-scientific mind. Her early life is reviewed in A Women Worth Knowing, Part 1. In 1937, Undersea, an article Carson wrote for Atlantic Monthly, drew lots of attention. The editor wrote to her, “The findings of science you have illuminated in such a way as to fire the imagination of the layman.”
On the heels of this article, a publisher commissioned Carson to write a book, Under the Sea -Wind. It created quit a buzz. Scientific experts and literary critics loved it. Weeks after publication, Japanese fighter planes bombed Pearl Harbor. The nations’s attention turned to war. All book sales slowed dramatically. An excellent piece of science and literature lay unread — a true disappointment to Rachel. A decade later in the summer of 1951, The Sea Around Us hit the bookstores. The result: New York Times bestseller list for eighty-six weeks, thirty-two weeks at number one.
After The Sea Around Us, a steady income from book royalties enabled Carson to resign from her job and start a new project. Her responsibilities as chief caretaker and provider for her extended families never waned. Only now, she navigates her own health issues. Her new book released at the end of 1955, The Edge of the Sea, landed on the New York Times bestseller list for a season and brought her a couple of awards. Despite the fame, Rachel’s household (consisted of her ailing mother, her niece, Marjorie, and Marjorie’s young son, Roger) took center stage. Marjorie was hospitalized in January 1957 and died a few days later. Rachel was now the guardian of a preschooler.
The rumbling of controversies surrounding synthetic pesticides broke out across the nation and Rachel decided to focus her research in this direction. By mid-1958, her mother and life-long encourager passed away. Alone but propelled by the sense that her research on pesticide was to be her most important work, she concentrated on a connection between human exposure to pesticides and cancer incidences. With the help of two assistants and a network of professionals, her research was gaining momentum. In Spring 1960, Carson wrestled with a number of serious medical conditions, chief among them — metastasizing cancer. Radiation brought with it rheumatoid arthritis and temporary blindness. She kept her health issues private, fearing her critics might question the objectivity of her work.
After extensive research, Carson knew that acute contact with DDT and other similar compounds caused potential fatal damage to major organs. Her book Silent Spring, published in 1962, sounded the alarm. Just before publication, Carson’s doctor uncovered that her cancer had spread. The next round of radiation beat her up so much that she kept her public appearances to a minimum. As her book and research broke, American’s were outraged to learn the dangers to which they’d been exposed. Her work forced the government to do their own research. Public outcry pushed for reform. Carson was called to testify before Congressional committees. April 14, 1963 she died at the age of 56 leaving the earth a better place.
For the last decade of her life, Carson worked without the backing of an institution. Even though she was reserved and soft-spoken, Carson intentionally spoke out on a huge controversial issue. As she gave voice to her cause, she did more than identify critical problems and potential solutions, she pointed us to a path of awareness and action cautioning that we go with humility and wisdom.