Rachel Carson Collection

What's online?

The Rachel Carson Collections contains images documenting environmentalist Rachel Carson’s undergraduate career at the Pennsylvania College for Women between 1924 and 1929.  Images were selected that depict Rachel Carson at Chatham’s Shadyside campus.

What’s in the entire collection?

The collection, held by the Chatham University Archives & Special Collections at JKM Library, chronicles Rachel Carson’s experience as a Pennsylvania College for Women student and her ongoing relationship with the school.  A full collection inventory, as well as additional content, is accessible at:   http://www.chatham.edu/host/library/carson/index.html.

About Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, one of the most influential environmental books published was born in Springdale, Pennsylvania on May 27, 1907. Rachel, the youngest of three children, spent her childhood on 65 acres of woods and farm land about 14 miles outside of Pittsburgh. Her career as a writer began early when St Nicholas Magazine published her story "A Battle in the Clouds" in September 1918.

After graduating from Parnassus High School, Rachel received a partial scholarship to attend the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College). Rachel began school in 1926 as an English major. In an essay written during her first year at PCW, she remarked, "I believe I will have time to think and to come to a fuller realization of my self, and that the training I receive here will help me to play my part on the stage of life." Due in part to biology professor Mary Skinker, she decided to switch her major from English to Science during the middle of her junior year. Rachel graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Science in 1929 and a scholarship to study for a Masters in Zoology at Johns Hopkins University. On May 26, 1952 PCW presented Rachel with an honorary Doctor of Literature.

Rachel was considered by her classmates to be a serious student who was not interested in socializing, but she did find time to be involved in several activities at college. During her senior year, Rachel founded Phi Mu, a club for advanced science students.. She was a writer and proofreader for The Arrow, the school newspaper and also wrote essays, short stories, and plays for The Englicode, the literary magazine. Rachel became a member of the Omega Club when she won the 1927 Omega Short Story Contest with a story entitled "Broken Lamps." She also participated in sports, playing field hockey throughout her college years and basketball her freshman year.

During her studies at Johns Hopkins, Rachel spent her summers as a researcher at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts. It is here that she became enchanted with the sea. After she completed her Masters, Rachel taught part-time at both Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland. She began to work at the Bureau of Fisheries (now the Fish and Wildlife Service) writing radio scripts. During this time she also wrote articles for The Baltimore Sun. She continued to be promoted at the Bureau, first as an information specialist in 1946 and then to chief editor of publications in 1949.

Rachel tried to publish her writings outside of the Bureau of Fisheries. An article she had intended for a Bureau publication was published in Atlantic Monthly in September 1937. She was able to publish her first book Under the Sea Wind in 1941. Although 15 magazines rejected the material that would later be published as The Sea Around Us, William Shawn of the New Yorker decided to publish it in a serialized version. The Sea Around Us became a bestseller and winner of the National Book Award. Under the Sea Wind was republished soon after and quickly became a bestseller as well.

The success of her writing career allowed Rachel to retire from the Bureau of Fisheries in 1952. After the publication of her next book The Edge of the Sea, Rachel Carson began to focus her attention on the wide use of pesticides after World War II. Rachel spent four and a half years researching the material for her book Silent Spring. The book, first serialized in the New Yorker in June 1962, caused an uproar. The book and Carson were attacked by the chemical industry. However, the book had a profound effect on the public and government. President John F. Kennedy formed a special government group to investigate the use and control of pesticides under the direction of the President's Science Advisory Committee. Carson testified before Congress in 1963 about new policies to protect the environment and the population. Honors bestowed upon the book include the Audubon Medal from the National Audubon Society, the Cullum Geographical Medal from the American Geographical Society, the Spirit of Achievement Award from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and a Carey-Thomas Honorable Mention for the most distinguished publication of 1962. DDT, a pesticide discussed in the book was banned in the United States in 1974.

Rachel Carson died at her home in Silver Spring, Maryland after a long battle with breast cancer on April 14, 1964. As a writer, environmentalist, and crusader, Carson is considered one of the most influential people of the century.

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