Kennedy announced the formation of a special government group to investigate the use and control of pesticides under the direction of the President's Science Advisory Committee (Rachel pp). The book caused a firestorm of public outrage and sold more than a quarter million copies by the end of 1962 (Rachel pp). United State Supreme Court Justice William Douglas called it "the most important chronicle of this century for the human race" and Loren Eisely of the University of Pennsylvania described it as a "devastating, heavily documented, relentless attack upon human carelessness, greed and irresponsibility"(Rachel pp). The fervor of the favorable reviews were matched by the intense attacks of the chemical industry and those it influenced, such as the president of the Montrose Chemical Corporation, the nation's largest producer of DDT, who asserted that Carson had written not "as a scientist but rather as a fanatic defender of the balance of nature" (Rachel pp). Critics labeled her a food-faddist, nature nut, and fish-lover, and despite poor health, Carson responded to these attacks by speaking to organizations, testifying at Congressional hearings, appearing on special televised segments of CBS Reports, and conferring with President Kennedy and his Science Advisory Committee (Rachel pp). On May 15, 1963, the President's Science Advisory Committee made public its report on pesticide use and control, it confirmed every point highlighted in "Silent Spring" (Rachel pp). The very next day, a sub-committee of the Senate Committee on Government Operations met to conduct a two-year investigation of government and industry regulations regarding pesticides (Rachel pp).
Rachel Carson died on April 14, 1964 at the age of fifty-six from breast cancer that had been diagnosed four years earlier (Rachel pp). Before she died she received many honors, including the Schweitzer Medal of the Animal Welfare Institute, the National Wildlife Federation's 'Conservationist of the Year,' and was the first woman to receive a medal from the National Audubon Society (Rachel pp). And in 1980, Carson was posthumously awarded the highest civilian decoration in the nation, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, accompanied with the words:
Never silent herself in the face of destructive trends,
Rachel Carson fed a spring of awareness across America and beyond. A biologist with a gentle, clear voice, she welcomed her audiences to her love of the sea, while with an equally clear voice she warned
Americans of the dangers human beings themselves pose for their own environment. Always concerned, always eloquent, she created a tide of environmental consciousness that has not ebbed" (Rachel pp).
Much of the criticism sparked by "Silent Spring" seems laughable today, such as a California man's letter to the New Yorker:
Miss Rachel Carson's reference to the selfishness of insecticide manufacturers probably reflects her
Communist sympathies, like a lot of our writers these days. We can live without birds and animals, but, as the current market slump shows, we cannot live without business. As for insects, isn't it just like a woman to be scared to death of a few little bugs! As long as we have the H-bomb everything will be O.K.P.S. She's probably a peace-nut too"
Given the damage being done by poison chemicals today, "one shudders to imagine how much more impoverished our habitat would be had "Silent Spring" not sounded the alarm...and even if she had not inspired a generation of activists, Carson would prevail as one of the greatest nature writers in American letters" writes environmentalist Peter Matthiessen (Matthiessen pp). However, Mary Henry of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrote in the January 1999 that, "Regrettably, some of the same issues concerning the environmental consequences of using pesticides, especially when they are misused or overused, remained unsolved" (Henry Pp). Moreover, contaminants are just beginning to be understood, and will be with the human race for a long time to come (Henry Pp).
Rachel Carson once wrote, "It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility" (Women pp). That quote and Carson's work lives on in Kaiulani Lee's one-woman play, "A Sense of Wonder," about the writer, biologist and environmental activist (Gebhardt Pp). For over ten years, Lee has been performing her play at universities, high schools, government agencies and conferences on conservation, education and the environment throughout North America and Europe (Gebhardt Pp).
Rachel Carson continues to be celebrated as one of the most influential conservationist of the twentieth century and is certain to inspire generations to come.
Matthiessen, Peter. "Before there was an environmental movement, there was one brave woman and her very brave book." Time. http://www.time.com/time/time100/scientist/profile/carson.html
Orlando, Laura. "From Rachel Carson to Oprah: Forty years after the publication of silent spring, corporations are still producing poisons - and still trying to keep critics from fighting back." Dollars & Sense. March 01, 2002; Pp.
Henry, Mary G. "Rachel Carson's Legacy." Endangered Species Bulletin: U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service. January 01, 1999; Pp.
Women in History
Gebhardt, Sara. "Retelling the Story of Rachel Carson; One-Woman Play Uses
Environmentalist's Words to Raise Awareness." The Washington Post. November 17, 2002; Pp.