Rachel Carson: Silent No More

HISTORY

Nathan Chandler

6 Min Quiz

Image: Wiki Commons

About This Quiz

Rachel Carson was a quiet woman who loved the environment and particularly the sea. She advocated for humankind to balance its needs against those of nature -- but found that other people were ready to fight her. How much do you know about Carson and her life's work?

Rachel Carson made a name for herself in which field?

Carson was a passionate ecologist who made some alarming observations about the environment. Her work kickstarted a movement that's still strong today.

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Carson wrote a book that made her a worldwide celebrity. What was the name of the book?

Published in 1962, "Silent Spring" was a watershed moment for the environmental movement. It exposed corporate wrongdoing and its horrific consequences.

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"Silent Spring" was mostly about what topic?

Carson investigated the way people were using pesticides, such as DDT. What she found was that DDT was much more dangerous than anyone realized.

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In the 1940s DDT was used primarily for what purpose?

As World War II raged in Europe and the Pacific, typhus and malaria (often spread by mosquitoes) were causing heavy casualties. DDT was hailed as a miracle chemical for its ability to kill mosquitoes and other insects, and thus, stop diseases.

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Carson was a longtime employee of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. What was one of her primary jobs?

She was a prolific writer and eventually became the top editor for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publications. That job gave her the skills (and credentials) that would come in handy during her environmentalist-minded career.

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Carson wound up with a big voice in American politics. What was her personality like?

Carson was a nature lover who loved to read and was comfortable being alone. She could be shy in the spotlight.

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Paul Muller discovered DDT in 1939. How was his discovery received by science?

Muller was treated like scientific royalty for finding DDT, which killed hordes of insects and then saved many people from disease. He won the 1948 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work.

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DDT turned out to be a hazardous pollutant that especially affected which creature?

DDT doesn't just disappear into the environment. It tends to build up, particularly in predatory birds. It thins their eggshells, which then often break before hatching.

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What sort of student was Carson?

Carson was a brainiac who graduated at the very top of her high school class. She was eventually accepted to Chatham University and then Johns Hopkins University.

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When Carson started college, she intended to follow what career path?

After high school, Carson intended to study English and then become a teacher. Later, she changed her major from English to biology and was smart enough to earn a scholarship to Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory.

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Carson loved research and writing. What was the name of her first book?

Her 1941 book was titled "Under the Sea Wind: A Naturalist's Picture of Ocean Life." Critics loved her descriptive writing … but no one bought it.

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Why did Carson drop out of graduate studies at Woods Hole Laboratory?

In the 1930s, the Great Depression was in full swing, and Carson's family was hurting for money. She left school because she ran out of funds and wanted to support her family.

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DDT's use as a pesticide was first confirmed in 1939, but when was DDT first created in a lab?

The chemical was first created in 1874, but no one really understood its use as a pesticide until Paul Muller came along. Once the chemical started being used in large quantities during World War II, a popular slogan went: "DDT is good for me-e-e-!"

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Rachel earned her master's degree by doing a thesis on which subject?

Carson earned her master's degree in 1932. Her thesis? "The Development of the Pronephros During the Embryonic and Early Larval Life of the Catfish."

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What inspired Carson to write her famous book, "Silent Spring"?

One of her friends mailed a letter detailing bird deaths following pesticide application. Carson was more than a little suspicious -- she launched a research project that ended with "Silent Spring."

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Carson had health issues in 1950. What problem did she have?

Carson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1950. It was an ominous precursor to future events in her life.

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What was "Romance Under the Waters"?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asked Carson to write scripts for a radio show called "Romance Under the Waters," hoping to spark public interest in the agency's work. The show was a success largely due to Carson's engaging writing style.

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In 1944, as World War II still raged, Rachel pitched a story idea about DDT to "Reader's Digest." How did the editors respond?

The editors called her DDT story "unpleasant" and refused to publish it. Later, of course, Carson found other ways to get out her story.

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In 1957, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed widespread pesticide application to kill fire ants in the Southeast. Carson compared this proposal to what?

Carson thought the plan was ludicrous and akin to an atomic attack, one that targeted insects instead of people. She worried that humans would be the ones who ultimately suffered most.

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"Silent Spring" wasn't just a denunciation of the cavalier use of powerful pesticides. What other issue did it attack?

She was worried about overuse of chemical pesticides, but Carson was also disturbed by corporate cover-ups. She accused powerful companies of purposely misleading the public about their deadly products for the sake of profits.

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Why did Carson resign from government service in 1952?

The prolific writer decided that she wanted to write full-time, so she gave up her government job. It was still 10 years before her biggest-selling book hit shelves.

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Why was Carson upset that the Soviets launched the first humans into space in 1957?

She regarded space as a sacred place of sorts and was worried about what sort of evil humans might imagine using space as a tool.

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After "Silent Spring" became a sensation, chemical companies accused Carson of what?

You're hysterical. You're a Communist. Those are the kinds of things that chemical company executives said in public hoping to discredit Carson and her ideas. Unfortunately for the profiteers, she wasn't going away quietly.

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Rachel was a very busy professional. She never married.

Carson never married and carried on a very private personal life. She met a married woman named Dorothy Freeman in 1953 and the two developed an extremely close friendship, but no one really knows the nature of that relationship.

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Which U.S president took notice of Carson's work regarding pesticides?

Carson's book was published in the early 1960s when JFK was president. He publicly spoke about her work and indicated that the government would look into her claims about pesticides.

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Carson was still researching her book when which scandal hit the news?

In the late 1950s, the Great Cranberry Scandal erupted. Turns out, the industry was using a herbicide that was known to cause cancer in lab rats. Carson took note of the industry's response to the scandal and noted them in her research.

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Why do some right-wing types (even today) label Carson as a mass murderer?

Even today, some politically-active people label Carson's ideas as ultimately harmful, simply because DDT was definitely effective against mosquitoes, which carry diseases that kill many humans. But Carson never wanted to completely do away with DDT. She simply wanted people to use chemicals in a conservative manner.

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How did Carson die?

In the early 1960s, Carson was diagnosed with breast cancer, which eventually spread to her liver. She couldn't overcome the disease and became weaker, until she suffered a heart attack.

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How did the government ultimately respond to Carson's research for "Silent Spring"?

"Silent Spring" didn't go in silence -- it sparked a firestorm around the country and around the world. Eventually, the U.S. government banned DDT as a result of Carson's work.

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DDT can increase the potential for breast cancer in women.

Since Carson's time, researchers have been debating just how dangerous "normal" DDT use is for humans. Some research shows that female fetuses exposed to DDT in the womb are four times more likely to develop breast cancer.

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