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What You Need to Know About the Woman Who Ignited the Environmental Movement

American marine biologist Rachel Carson challenged the patriarchal world of postwar science and the nation's chemical industry with her unprecedented book, "Silent Spring" on the detrimental effects of pesticides on birds.

Among her many accolades, what proves to be most inspirational is Carson's fight to defend her trailblazing work against chemical giants after it was published.

Velsicol, a manufacturer of DDT, tried to sue Carson's publishers, Houghton Mifflin and The New Yorker. When that strategy failed, the chemical giant was said to launch a $250,000 publicity campaign to bring down Carson and her work. She was ridiculed for being hysterical, unscientific and for being an unmarried woman. And even a former US secretary of agriculture was reported to wonder in public "why a spinster with no children was so interested in genetics."

Carson fought back. At the Women's National Press Club, she argued, "When a scientific organization speaks," she asked, "whose voice do we hear — that of science or of the sustaining industry?"

"Her unpardonable offence was that she had overstepped her place as a woman," wrote Linda Lear, who authored Carson's biography. 

"Silent Spring" made waves when it was first published in 1962, and influenced the modern day ecological and conservation movement as well as the ban on DDT. Today, Carson's book is often referenced as a foundation for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Her courage in sounding the alarm and her ecological vision of the oneness of all life indelibly shaped the contemporary environmental movement and anticipated the global crisis we face in the 21st century," wrote Lear.

Now many critics say the modern day environmental movement was conceived with Carson’s groundbreaking work.

Carson was born in the river town of Springdale, Pennsylvania on May 27, 1907. She studied at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and later Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore. Carson began writing for the Baltimore Sun and in 1936 was made editor-in-chief for publications for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 1980, Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S., by Jimmy Carter. By her death in April 1964, sales of "Silent Spring" grew to reach one million.

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Photo Credit: CBS via Getty Images