Rachel Carson

The Life & Legacy

Rachel Carson was many things: a scientist, an author, an environmentalist, a pioneer, and a student. A graduate of Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University), she advocated for justice for the environment and changed the shape of the world forever.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.

—Rachel Carson

The Early Years

Rachel Carson was born in 1907 in Springdale, PA, just 25 minutes from Chatham University. As a child, she spent much of her time exploring around her family's farm and this began her interest in the natural world around her. She was an avid reader as well as an adventurer, and she began writing stories at age eight and had her first story published at age ten. She graduated from her high school in New Kensington, PA at the top of her class in 1925 and then went on to attend Pennsylvania College for Women (Chatham University) in the fall of 1925.

Planting Seeds at Chatham

At PCW, Rachel participated in field hockey and basketball, and wrote for The Arrow and The Englicode, the student newspaper and literary supplement. Originally an English major, Rachel planned on being an author after graduation, but after taking a biology course her sophomore year and falling in love with the subject, she changed her major to biology. Her professor, Mary Scott Skinker, became her mentor and encouraged Rachel throughout her schooling and career. Rachel went on to excel in her science courses and graduated in 1929 having impacted and been impacted by PCW. At the time, neither Rachel herself nor the college knew just how large her impact would be.

Speaking Out for the Environment

After graduation, Rachel went on to earn her master’s in Zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932. She then began to work for the public education department of the Bureau of Fisheries writing pamphlets on conservation and natural resources. It was during this time that she discovered her love for the sea, and her first major work, Undersea, was published in 1937. She then proceeded to write three books about the sea, Under the Sea-Wind, The Sea Around Us, and The Edge of the Sea, all of which were successful.

Silent Spring

In 1962 her most famous and influential piece, Silent Spring, was published. A scathing exposé on the use of synthetic pesticides in post-World War II America, Silent Spring became an immediate bestseller. Rachel was attacked by the chemical industry as an alarmist for the book, but she continued to speak out about the dangers the chemicals presented. She went on to testify before Congress in 1963 and call for new policies to protect human health and the environment. She died the very next spring in 1964 of breast cancer, leaving the world profoundly impacted by the work she had done.

The Movement

Rachel Carson’s powerful words promoted a new way of thinking—one where humanity is not the center of life on earth, but part of nature. Silent Spring helped form the environmental movement that began in the 1960s which later went on to make the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. She inspired the world to care for and to preserve the place we all call home.

The Legacy

Not only did Rachel's life cause change worldwide, but it changed the shape of Chatham University forever. Her inspiration guided Chatham to the creation of Eden Hall Campus, and her work has also served as a catalyst for the Falk School of Sustainability & Environment's commitment to advancing sustainability education, implementation, and research. Much like Rachel 90 years ago, our students graduate conscientious of the world around them and ready to change it for the better.

Rachel Carson

One of TIME's 100 Persons of The Century

Along with physicist Albert Einstein, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, and visionary aviators the Wright Brothers, Rachel Carson was named as one of Time Magazine's Top Scientists & Thinkers at the close of the 20th century.

In 1981, the U.S. Postal Service issued a Rachel Carson stamp.

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Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Carter in 1980.

On Earth Day, April 22, 2006, Pittsburgh’s Ninth Street Bridge was renamed the Rachel Carson Bridge after years of lobbying by former Chatham president, Esther Barazzone.