The RCHA utilizes the following components in a framework to align with its new vision and revised goals.
Rachel Carson’s profound impact on society and culture began during the second half of the twentieth century. From a time when few women were scientists, she was born and raised in this humble home yet came to be recognized around the world as the founder of the modern environmental movement.,
A world-famous best-selling author of three scientifically accurate and eloquently lyrical books about the life of the ocean by her mid-forties, Rachel Carson braved many challenges to write the landmark book Silent Spring. Her warnings about pesticide persistence and unknown dangers of their resulting combinations in our earth, water, and air laid the groundwork for clean air and clean water legislation as well as pesticide safety warnings.
Changes in attitude, behavior, and policy that she helped initiate continue to reverberate throughout the world – several countries honor her with awards and institutes in her name. Rachel Carson’s legacy of respect for the balance of nature spawned the idea of sustainability. Even the drive to organic food products can be traced to her warnings. Her life and dedication are tremendously inspirational. Rachel Carson’s environmental ethic and sense of wonder are a necessary antidote to our own complacency. For the sake of ourselves, and future generations, we preserve her birthplace as a tribute to her life and legacy.
Rachel Carson Homestead Association is in a unique position to help make Rachel Carson’s story accessible to an increasingly broader audience. Her call for humility, her ethic of respecting all components of our world – all of her messages, remain relevant to issues today. From what more apt place could Rachel Carson, her message, and her vision be reintroduced to the public than the modest house in Springdale, Pennsylvania! This is the home where she lived as a child, grew into adulthood, and first fell in love with the wonders and mysteries of nature.
RACHEL CARSON: HER ROOTS, OUR HERITAGE
Rachel Carson’s early years in this Springdale home—the place where her character and worldview initially took shape—have ramifications for us today. Her ideas, attitudes and values are our rich inheritance. We are stewards of those intangibles, as well as of the earth. Her early and humble home inspires us
The strong but subtle moral imperative is for us to continue the work she began, and to share and pass it to our children. This principled perspective is very much in keeping with Rachel Carson’s profoundly moral outlook on responsibility and accountability.
Place is another significant component in Rachel Carson’s life story. Beginning with the woods in Springdale and the hometown banks of the Allegheny River, the Atlantic coast and particularly the coastline of Maine became significant places of discovery for her. Family and nature provided Rachel Carson with a firm foundation from which to explore, develop and satisfy curiosity and wonder, and grow.
When Rachel Carson was born in western Pennsylvania in 1907, the village of Springdale had just become a borough. The small four-room house on Marion Avenue was situated on 65 acres of woods, orchard, fields, and bramble. The Allegheny River was readily accessible for family excursions. It was in this relatively rustic setting that Rachel Carson first encountered nature during walks with her mother. Here she began to muse about the sea, partake in the mysteries of nature, write stories, wonder.
Over the nineteen-plus years that she lived in Springdale, Rachel Carson witnessed changes in her birthplace as residences emerged and industry developed along the river and in the town. Boats traveled the river, automobiles were introduced.
A SENSE OF WONDER
Well before Women’s Home Companion magazine published her article, “Help Your Child to Wonder” in July 1956, Rachel Carson employed lyrical, imaginative and even spiritual language when writing about the world of nature. An essay for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (later the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) was rejected by her supervisor – in effect he told her it was “too good,” that she should submit it to the Atlantic Monthly. It became a 1937 article entitled “Undersea.” Her picturesque and inspired phrases, such as “material immortality”, “cosmic background”, “a panorama of endless change”, “a bewildering variety of living creatures” and “boundless pastures” connected an unknown environment to readers.
As a child in Springdale, Rachel Carson took walks in the woods with her mother, leisurely explored the nearby Allegheny River with family members, and read books about distant seas while quietly alone in her room. Long before she came to realize that the natural world was threatened by human avarice and arrogance, Rachel Carson was enamored with and reveled in the beauty, glory and mystery of creation.
The sense of wonder that Rachel Carson consciously experienced, cultivated and encouraged during her lifetime is encouraged in children who have attended the summer day-camp, a “Week of Wonder” at the Homestead. Homestead guests learn from their own first-hand encounters, discoveries and explorations of nature.
A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement . . . If I had any influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life . . .
If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.
‐Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder, 1956/1965
A WORLD OF RELATIONSHIPS
Rachel Carson was a pioneer and an innovator, a creative person who fostered new ways of seeing the world. While she described writing as a lonely occupation, she lived her life in a intricate web of relationships—personal and professional—and in her popular and technical writings she emphasized her conviction that nature is best understood and appreciated when seen in light of a vast array of intersecting and interdependent networks.
Beginning with a powerful, virtually life-long connection to her mother—the person who introduced young Rachel to the worlds of nature and music, who managed Rachel’s household through Rachel’s professional employment, so that Rachel could have time and energy to focus on writing. From infancy until death Rachel Carson was embedded in a rich fabric of human relatedness: with family members, friends, teachers, classmates, mentors, supervisors, assistants, colleagues and collaborators.
As the Editor‐in-Chief of publications for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, she was exacting and insisted on high quality work products from subordinates. In her personal life, she was steadfastly devoted to family members and friends, with loyalty that survived all challenges. Becoming the family breadwinner at a young age, Rachel Carson provided stability for her family throughout her life: caring for her elderly mother, hosting sister and nieces, and adopting her orphaned nephew.
As a scientist and writer, Rachel Carson repeatedly underscored the diverse ways in which all components of the natural world were in dynamic relationship, one to another. Bringing the concepts of environment and community to mainstream through work-publications, newspaper articles, her best-selling books about the ocean and its life – Under the Sea Wind (1941) and The Sea Around Us(1951), and in her speeches, she called attention to the complex web of relations of all creation.
The challenge for humanity, she frequently maintained in her later years, is not to dominate the natural world or to invent new technologies with which to extract wealth from it, but rather to find skills and capacities to live in harmony with it, to protect nature and ourselves from human greed and arrogance, to cherish the mystery and the hard‐won but increasingly precarious balance that is an inextricable component of the natural world:
We still have not become mature enough to see ourselves as a very tiny part of a vast and incredible universe, a universe that is distinguished above all else by a mysterious and wonderful unity that we flout at out own peril . . .
Instead of always trying to impose our will on Nature we should sometimes be quiet and listen to what she has to tell us . . .
Mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and its mastery—not of nature, but of itself. Therein lies our hope and our destiny.
-Rachel Carson, “Of Man and the Stream of Time”, 1962
CHALLENGES, CHOICES, COURAGE AND COMMITMENT
Like most Americans during the first half of the twentieth century, Rachel Carson had an abiding faith in science and progress, but when World War II ended in nuclear inferno, questions about human judgment troubled her. Another problem began to trouble her: biologists were increasingly concerned that DDT—considered by many a miracle pesticide—might “upset the delicate balance of nature if used unwisely.” With the dawning of the “space age” in 1957, Carson’s doubts and reservations about human discernment and farsightedness amplified.
Carson questioned whether humankind was prepared to assume a new role in the universe: were we exhibiting sufficient humility, or were we too arrogant? Was our moral development keeping apace with our burgeoning scientific knowledge? Carson came to fear that our intrepid scientific and technological conquests might result in unintended but irreparable harm to ourselves and the planet.
After completing her third book, The Edge of the Sea in the late 1950s, Carson planned to write an anthology of the whole “world of nature” – from its geology to the beginnings of life to “its amazing ramifications and adaptations, its relation to its physical and biological environment” but instead felt compelled to address the disturbing questions related to the widespread use of synthetic chemicals in the environment. Once she grasped the magnitude of danger, she wrote “there would be no peace for me if I kept silent.” After serious health challenges and her “catalog of illnesses,” her efforts were completed in 1962 as Silent Spring was published. She drew on scientific evidence to paint a dark vision of the future while simultaneously issuing a passionate call for modifications in attitude, behavior and public policy regarding indiscriminate spraying of pesticides:
We stand now where two roads diverge . . . The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one “less traveled”—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, 1962
Although Carson never for a moment believed that a single book would change the trajectory of history, she felt “bound by a solemn obligation” to do what she could to protect the natural world, a realm that she first learned to love and cherish as a young child in Springdale, Pennsylvania. In writing Silent Spring and in advocating informed action, Carson brought to bear the values and talents she had initially discovered as a child on Marion Avenue and that she had subsequently cultivated throughout her adult life.
In this regard and others too, Rachel Carson can be presented as a model citizen for Homestead visitors—children and adults alike—to study and emulate. Her willingness to “acknowledge what I couldn’t help seeing,” her courage to make difficult choices and her commitment to lifelong principles provide a lens through which visitors can explore and comprehend responsible citizenship, the role of values in public life, and the challenges and the benefits of personal action. Her courage never lacked, but her health suffered as she was threatened with lawsuits from chemical manufacturers, her credentials questioned, and her personal motivation ridiculed.
SELECTED SOURCES CONSULTED
|Under the Sea-‐Wind, New York. NY: Simon & Schuster.
|The Sea Around Us. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
|The Edge of the Sea. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.
Carson, R. (1962). Silent Spring. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.
Carson, R. (1962). “Of Man and the Stream of Time”. Claremont, CA: Scripps College.
Brooks, Paul (1972). The House of Life: Rachel Carson at Work. Houghton Mifflin.
Freeman, M., editor. (1995). Always, Rachel. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Lear, L., editor. (1998). Lost Woods. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Lear, L. (1997,2009). Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature. Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt.
Lytle, M.H. (2007). The Gentle Subversive. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Matthiessen, P., editor. (2007). Courage for the Earth. New York: NY: Houghton Mifflin.
Special thanks to all who contributed over the decades of the Rachel Carson Homestead’s history. From Angeline Sober who purchased the house in the 1930s and recorded its history while she inhabited it. Miss Sober proposed selling the house to Mrs. Ruth Jury Scott, with restriction of maintaining it as part of Rachel Carson’s legacy. Mrs. Scott engaged Mrs. Evelyn Hirtle George, an environmental science educator and administrator with environmental science, and others – Edmund Boyle and Mrs. Agnes Kinard, Esq., forming the Rachel Carson Homestead Association, Inc. in 1975. More recently, we gratefully acknowledge Linda Lear, historian, who generously shared her expertise, wealth of knowledge, insights, reflections and keen editorial eye.