Collection on Rachel Carson
Scope and Contents
The Collection on Rachel Carson documents activities of Chatham University to collect, research, and promote the work and successes of Rachel Carson following her graduation from Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University) in 1929. The collection includes copies of many, though not all, published writings by Rachel Carson dating from her years as a student at Pennsylvania College for Women (P.C.W.) and continuing throughout her career as a professional writer. The collection also includes a copy of Rachel Carson’s student transcript, a book identified as belonging to Rachel Carson, and a series of correspondence between Rachel Carson and the Treasurer of P.C.W. between 1929 and 1934 relating to Rachel Carson’s debt to the school and also between P.C.W. and real estate agents in Pittsburgh and Springdale, PA relating to Carson family property used as collateral for Rachel Carson’s school loans. Much of the collection consists of records, brochures, flyers, photocopies, clippings, and correspondence related to Chatham College’s (now Chatham University) efforts to recognize the professional achievements of Rachel Carson after the publication of The Sea Around Us. These materials include correspondence between Chatham College President Edward Eddy and Rachel Carson about plans to host a campus visit by Rachel Carson as part of a new “Chatham Visitors” program and several campus efforts to honor Rachel Carson’s legacy after her death in 1964, including public programs in 1987 and 1994 and more. The collection also includes photocopies and clippings collected and maintained by Chatham University Alumni Office featuring Rachel Carson. The collection also includes photographs and copies of photographs of Rachel Carson during her childhood, college years, and during the later years of her life.
- Created: 1910-1964
- Other: Majority of material found in 1925-1964
- Chatham University (Organization)
Conditions Governing Access
There are no restrictions on access. The records are open for research use.
Biographical or Historical Information
Rachel Carson, biologist and author of several highly influential books on marine biology and the effect of pesticides on the environment, is credited with initiating the modern environmental movement. The youngest of three children, Rachel was born on May 27, 1907 to Maria and Robert Carson and she spent much of her childhood on her family’s 65-acre farm in Springdale, Pennsylvania, just north of Pittsburgh. Exhibiting an early interest in reading and writing, she published her first story, titled “A Battle in the Clouds,” in the September 1918 issue of St. Nicholas Magazine. She attended public school in Springdale and graduated from nearby Parnassus High School in 1925.
Though awarded a tuition scholarship based on academic achievement and a scholarship from the State Department of Instruction, the Carson family’s financial sacrifices—including selling plots of land, family heirlooms, and farm produce—barely covered the cost of attendance at the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University) and Rachel’s attendance was achieved through loans and assistance by anonymous donors. Rachel began school as an English major and, after much discussion with faculty members including Grace Croff and Mary Scott Skinker, switched to Biology in her Junior year. A studious member of the college community, she contributed regularly to the student newspaper, founded the Science Club, and was a member of the honorary hockey team. She graduated in Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Science in 1929 and a scholarship to study for a Masters in Zoology at Johns Hopkins University. She received her M.S. from Johns Hopkins in 1932 and spent summers working as a researcher at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts. Though she pursued a doctorate degree from Johns Hopkins, she dropped out of the program in 1934 in large part due to her family’s ongoing financial struggles. During this period, Carson held teaching positions at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland and, beginning in 1935, wrote radio scripts for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and articles for the Baltimore Sun.
In 1936, when she accepted a position as a junior aquatic biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and, shortly after from Baltimore County, Maryland to Silver Spring to better accommodate her mother and two recently-bereaved nieces. In 1937, an article originally intended for publication with the Bureau of Fisheries titled “Undersea” was published in Atlantic Monthly. Her first book, Under the Sea Wind, was published in 1941. Although fifteen magazines rejected the material that would later be published as The Sea Around Us, Wallace Shawn of the New Yorker published 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.
In 1952, the success of her writing career allowed Rachel to retire from the Bureau of Fisheries, where she had been promoted, first as an information specialist and then as Chief Editor of Publications. On May 26, 1952 PCW presented Rachel with an honorary Doctor of Literature.
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. She spent four and a half years researching material for her book Silent Spring. The book, first serialized in the New Yorker, caused uproar. Though the book and Carson were attacked by the chemical industry, Silent Spring had a profound effect on the public and government. President John F. Kennedy, Jr. 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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Language of Materials
The Collection on Rachel Carson is arranged into 6 Series: Series 1: Essays and Articles by Rachel Carson, 1925 – 1963, bulk 1925 – 1928 Series 1 contains the writings by Rachel Carson, including her high school thesis, college essays, student newspaper articles, one article that appeared in the Pittsburgh Press in 1963, and editions of Silent Spring, Under the Sea Wind, The Rocky Coast, Edge of the Sea Wind, etc in English and several other languages. Of particular note among Rachel Carson’s student writing is her essay, “Master of the Ship’s Light” for which she was awarded the Omega prize. Items in this series are copies compiled for ease of access and original publications appearing in the campus publications The Arrow and The Englicode are available in the related Campus Publications Collections. Materials are ordered chronologically, with the books using the most recent copyright date. Series 2: Rachel Carson Student Records, 1926 – 1944 Series 2 is comprised of student records about Rachel Carson at Chatham, including a copy of her transcript and correspondence relating to tuition payments. This correspondence, which dates from 1928 to 1944, addresses repayment of a tuition loan made to Rachel Carson by the school and for which her family used land they owned near Pittsburgh as collateral. The letters detail the financial struggles of the Carson family during the Great Depression and Rachel Carson’s role as the sole family provider. Rachel Carson’s loan repayment was completed in the 1940s. Also included is an edition of The Æneid of Virgil with inscription “Rachel Louise Carson” donated by Alden M. Rollins. Series 3: Chatham Recognition of Rachel Carson, 1925- 1995 (bulk 1952-1995) Series 3 includes documentation of Chatham’s efforts to recognize Rachel Carson and her contributions. These efforts include an invitation to participate in the Chatham Visitors Program, a Rachel Carson Remembrance Committee, the More than Aware conference held on campus, and numerous notices and articles about Rachel Carson that appear in Chatham publications. Though Rachel Carson was one of the first individuals invited to join the Chatham Visitors Program, health issues interfered with her visit planned for May 1964. The Rachel Carson Remembrance Committee, composed of members from Chatham, the Rachel Carson Homestead, and the Landscape Design Society of Western Pennsylvania, produced a series of events during May 1987 to commemorate the 25 th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring. Events included the commission of a portrait, concerts, lectures, and a tree planting on campus. The More than Aware conference, held in conjunction with the 125 th anniversary of Chatham, commemorated the legacy of Rachel Carson by establishing the Rachel Carson Award, arranging a benefit concert with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel, and lectures discussing the role of women in science featuring discussion of Margaret Sanger. Materials documenting More than Aware include programs, correspondence, clippings, and an audio cassette. Chatham publications about Rachel Carson, ranging from mentions of her as a student in The Arrow to articles about her in the Alumni Recorder, are also included. Additional records in this series document assorted activities by Chatham to recognize Rachel Carson, including a reading room and nomination to Phi Beta Kappa. Activities of the Rachel Carson Institute at Chatham University can be found in the related collection. Subseries: A Visitor’s Program Subseries B: Chatham Publications about Rachel Carson Subseries C: Rachel Carson Remembrance Committee Subseries D: More Than Aware Series 4: Alumni Office Research Files, 1955 – 1995 This series contains documentation collected and maintained by the Chatham Alumni Office about Rachel Carson, including articles about Rachel Carson, the clippings on Rachel Carson Homestead, several pieces of correspondence with the Japan Rachel Carson Council and the Rachel Carson Council, and Rachel Carson’s alumnae questionnaire. The collection of articles reflects those available and maintained for research purposes, rather than the entirety of articles published about Rachel Carson during the years represented. Series 5: Photographs, c. 1910 – 1952 This series contains photographs and photograph duplicates depicting Rachel Carson during her childhood, during her years as a student at Chatham, and after leaving Chatham. Many documents in this series are duplicates from the student yearbooks. Several images are duplicates collected by Chatham from other archival repositories during the course of research. All known photographers and source repositories have been noted. Subseries A: Childhood Photographs Subseries B: Student Photos Subseries C: Campus Friends & Colleagues Subseries D: Assorted Rachel Carson Photos
Processed by Jennifer Aronson, 2002 and by Colleen Reilly, 2006. Arrangement and finding aid updated by Molly Tighe with Emily Simons in 2017.
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