05/28/03
Rachel Carson
    by Rita Smith

It is always interesting to discover what childhood activities influenced adult lives. Rachel Carson, born May 27, 1907, grew up to be a concerned natural scientist and a persuasive writer who changed forever the way Americans thought about their environment. There were foreshadowings to both these vocations in her childhood.

When she was young, according to John McCrossan in Books and Reading in the Lives of Notable Americans, Rachel loved to read, especially books about nature. At her local public library she found two books which had a lasting effect on her. One was Tarka the Otter, a story about an otter who lives a playful, sometimes dangerous, life in the Devonshire countryside. The other was Henry Beston's The Outermost House, the description of a year of living on the Cape Cod coast. "I have read and re-read them more times than I can count," Carson once said." They are among the books that I have loved best and that have influenced me the most." 1

The young Carson was not only an avid reader, but a published writer as well. When she was ten years old, she submitted an article to St. Nicholas Magazine for Children. Each month the magazine announced a theme for children to write about. One month the theme was "A Battle in the Clouds." This was in 1918, and Americans were immersed in the war. Rachel wrote a story about a brave Canadian pilot who had saved a crew of allied fliers after a dogfight with a German fighter plane, and was later killed in the United States while training American airmen. The editors liked it and published the short essay in the September 1918 issue. Rachel had four other essays published over the next year, all of them about the war, and one even earned her $10. By the time she was 12 she was not only an avid reader with a keen interest in nature stories, but she was also a published, paid author.

The reading of nature books as a child and the support and encouragement she received from St. Nicholas in her writing were seeds which flowered in adulthood, into pioneering books on the sea and on the danger of pesticides and their devastating effects on the natural environment. These books created a degree of environmental consciousness that to this day has never ebbed, and in 1980 President Jimmy Carter honored her posthumously by awarding Rachel Carson the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

1 McCrossan, p. 38. (Quoting Paul Brooks, The House of Life: Rachel Carson at Work, Houghton Mifflin., 1972, p. 6)

Sources

McCrossan, John A., Books and Reading in the Lives of Notable Americans. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Carson, Rachel, "A Battle in the Clouds," St. Nicholas Magazine for Children, September, 1918., p. XXX.

Copyright 2003 Rita Smith

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