Rachel Carson died at the age of 56 in 1964. Today marks her 107th birthday. As the author of two books Carson is remembered for one that changed history. In the 52 years since the publication of her book Silent Spring she proved that one American citizen did have the power to stand up against the wealth and power of organizations worth multi-million dollars and win.
Carson died from breast cancer; however, before her death she passionately fought against the use of pesticides that she felt brought irreparable harm to plants, birds, fish, and humans. Although there was a raging debate about the truth of her claims, Carson was undeterred and testified before the United States Senate to stop the use of DDT.
Silent Spring created a sensation and resulted in her historic testimony in 1964 at a time when she was in the final stages of the breast cancer that took her life. Yet, Carson never stopped fighting. Senator Ernest Gruening was deeply touched by her writing and her passion. “Every once in a while in the history of mankind, a book has appeared which has substantially altered the course of history,” Gruening said.
The power of the book reached President John F. Kennedy and he launched a federal investigation to verify the truth of her claims that synthetic pesticides like DDT not only killed bugs but also threatened birds, fish, and little children.
“Our heedless and destructive acts enter into vast cycles of the earth and in time return to bring hazard to ourselves,” she said. Rachel Carson was not the first person to realize that human beings were destructive to nature. Henry David Thoreau was a voice for the environmental movement before Carson was born. However, she was passionate about nature and she captured the public imagination because of her service to nature.
“Mankind seems to be going farther and farther into more experiments for destruction of himself and his world. The right of the citizen to be secure in his own home against the intrusion of poisons applied by other persons,” was Carson’s passion. She presented research and evidence that some human cancers were linked to pesticide exposure.
That one writer was able to change the direction of a nation with one book is a vital aspect of her legacy. President Ronald Reagan recognized Carson’s contributions and service to her nation nearly 20 years after her death with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Rachel Carson never gave up her fight. And the great ones never do.
Happy Birthday, Rachel Carson. America remembers you.