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Rachel Carson, continued
Then it happened.  A letter was given to her that changed her life, and our lives too as a result.  In 1957 she received a letter written by Olga Huckins directed to the Editor of the Boston Herald about the insecticide DDT and the harm it was doing to birds and fish.   

Government officials (encouraged by the pesticide companies) did not want to do any research on possible harmful effects of DDT.  In her letter, Olga described the deaths of fish and birds caused by DDT.  Although these were unintended consequences, the grim facts about DDT kept piling up. Rachel knew that a book had to be written about this problem, but after several attempts to encourage others to do it, she decided she was the best one for the job.  She knew it had to be well documented and scientific, but at the same time be easy to read for non-scientists. 

"I may not like what I see," she wrote, "but it does no good to ignore it, and it's worse than useless to go on repeating the old 'eternal verities' that are no more eternal than the hills of the poets. So it seems time someone wrote of life in the light of the truth as it now appears to us."

Her personal life took a turn for the worse through all this.  In 1960, she had a breast tumor, which the doctor said was benign.  By the end of the year, she learned that his diagnosis was wrong, and the cancer was spreading.   She had several other tragedies during the course of her work.  Her sister died, leaving her children for Rachel to raise.  Her mom, who had encouraged her the most, became sick and died.  In addition, Rachelís cancer became terminal.  Though she was bedridden at times, and always tackling financial problems for the family as well, she continued her work on the book. 

Her book, Silent Spring, was published (1962) and was an instant sensation (click here to read about this book's impact). While Rachel was attacked by pesticide companies and some government officials for her book, she knew her research and the facts were sound.  Because of this, she was called to speak to the U.S. Congress in 1963.  She encouraged Congress to establish a government agency to oversee all issues of environmental protection. A federal agency was created, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  One of the first things this agency did was to restrict the use of DDT because of its unforeseen harmful effects on the environment. Rachel did not live to see her work bear fruit. She died just before she turned 57 in April, 1964.  In her memory, a Silent Spring Institute has been created to study the possibility that pesticides might cause breast cancer.

Rachelís writings and efforts influenced people all over America to be more aware of the delicate balance of nature.  We now have recycling centers, cleaner air and water, and more awareness of the fragility of ecosystems. But Rachel's most important contribution was making people aware that human activity can have unintended consequences on the environment. 


Henrickson, John.  1991.  Rachel Carson, The Environmental Movement.  The Millbrook Press.  Brookfield, Connecticut.

Lear, Linda.  1997.  Rachel Carson:  Witness for Nature.  Henry Holt and Company.  New York, NY.

Vare, Ethlie Ann and Ptacek, Greg.  1988.  Mothers of Invention:  From the Bra to the Bomb:  Forgotten Women and Their Unforgettable Ideas. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, NY.

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