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Rachel Louise Carson -A Centennial Celebration
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by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Canaan Valley NWR staff | 2007

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had 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, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from sources of our strength.” Rachel Carson – The Sense of Wonder, 1956

The youngest of three children, Rachel Louise Carson was born in 1907 in the rural community of Springdale, Pennsylvania. Carson’s mother, Maria, instilled in her daughter a strong sense of independence and a love of nature and writing. Carson herself later developed these traits into a career when she entered Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College). Carson began college as an English major, but later switched to biology. After graduation in 1929, Carson completed her M.A. in zoology at Johns Hopkins University, a rare accomplishment for a woman in that era.

In 1936, Carson was the first woman to pass the civil service test and was hired by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - USFWS) as a junior biologist. During her 15-year career, Carson’s talent and dedication helped her become editor in chief of all USFWS publications. Among these publications was an educational series called “Conservation in Action” that explored the wildlife and ecology of National Wildlife Refuges. While working for the USFWS, Carson began to publish her own work. Her first major success came with the publication of The Sea Around Us in 1951. Profits from The Sea Around Us, an extremely popular account of marine life and ecology, allowed Carson to retire from government service to write full time.

Although unmarried, Carson remained very close to her nieces and adopted her 5 year old grandnephew, Roger Christie, upon her niece’s death. In 1956, Carson wrote a series of magazine articles based on her exploration of the Maine coast with her young grandnephew. These articles, originally titled “Help Your Child to Wonder” were designed to help parents introduce their children to the wonders of nature. Carson  wrote, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, 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.” These articles were later combined and republished under the title The Sense of Wonder.

In 1962, Carson published Silent Spring, a work that shook the foundations of public trust in the chemical industry and sparked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. In Silent Spring, Carson documented the harmful effects of pesticides and called for the development of strict and responsible controls on their use. The publication of Silent Spring, along with similar research, spurred congressional hearings into federal pesticide policy. Consequently, DDT, an especially harmful pesticide, was banned from use in the United States. Perhaps more importantly, Silent Spring spurred the American public to begin thinking critically about environmental issues.

After a long period of illness, Rachel Carson died in 1964 at the age of 56 from breast cancer. It is indeed a rare thing when one person so dramatically affects the mindset of an entire nation, but Rachel Carson did exactly that. She taught us to love and marvel at the natural world in The Sea Around Us and in The Sense of Wonder. In Silent Spring, she taught us to consider the breadth of ecological damage that can occur when our society becomes complacent or unthinking in our use of modern technologies.

In honor of the 100th birthday of this remarkable woman, several local groups have joined together to sponsor a free performance of a play called A Sense of Wonder. Written and performed by Kaiulani Lee, A Sense of Wonder is a two-act, one woman play based on the life and works of Rachel Carson. Ms. Lee has been touring the country with this play for over ten years. The play has been the centerpiece of regional and national conferences on conservation, education, and the environment and has been performed at over one hundred universities, dozens of high schools, and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.

Please join us on February 16, 2006, as we present a free performance of A Sense of Wonder. The show starts at 7:30pm at the Boiler House Theater, Davis and Elkins College, Elkins, WV. Admission is free, but seating is limited. Tickets are available in advance at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Main Line Books in Elkins or at the door of the Boiler House Theater on the night of the show.

Sponsors of A Sense of Wonder are Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Davis and Elkins College, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, Mountaineer Audubon, Friend’s of the 500th, and Main Line Books.


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