Silent Spring

Rachel Carson: Catalyst of the Environmental Movement

"Silent Spring" History

"The title Silent Spring was inspired by a line from the John Keats poem “La Belle Dame sans Merci" and evokes a ruined environment in which “the sedge is wither’d from the lake, / And no birds sing.”

~Sarah Boslough in "Encyclopedia Britannica"

In her book Silent Spring, Carson wrote that widespread spraying of livestock, crops, and fields was killing wildlife. Carson had retired from her job in 1951 to focus on writing.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a masectomy in 1960. Throughout 1956-1962 she documented evidence of the impacts of chemical insecticides on nature. 

"The more I learned about the use of pesticides, the more appalled I became. I realized that here was the material for a book. What I discovered was that everything which meant most to me as a naturalist was being threatened, and that nothing I could do would be more important."

~ Rachel Carson​​​​​​​


Medford, Oregon, 1948, National Geographic.

Letter to the Editor 28 January 1958.

Her studies revealed that widespread spraying of insecticides were upsetting the balance of nature. 

"In the summer of 1960 the refuge staff picked up hundreds of dead and dying birds at Tule Lake and Lower Klamath.  Most of them were fish-eating species--herons, pelicans, grebes, gulls.  Upon analysis, they were found to contain insecticide residues identified as toxaphene, DDD, and DDE.  Fish from the lakes were also found to contain insecticides; so did samples of plankton.  The refuge manager believes that pesticide residues are now building up in the waters of these refuges, being conveyed there by return irrigation flow from heavily sprayed agricultural lands."
~ Rachel Carson, "4. Surface Waters and Underground Seas," p. 45

Before President John F. Kennedy was nominated on 15 July 1960, Rachel Carson joined his campaign and had access to many lead environmental experts.  She joined them and formed a plan.