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Rachel Carson papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 46

Scope and Contents

The Rachel Carson Papers at The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library consist of manuscripts, notebooks, letters, newspaper clippings, photos, and printed material relating to the life and career of Rachel Carson. The collection spans the years 1921 to 1981, with the bulk of the material covering the period from 1950 to 1964.

The Rachel Carson Papers are divided into three series: I. Writings, II. General Correspondence, and III. Personal Papers. Oversize material is placed at the end of the collection.

Series I, Writings (Boxes 1-101), contains material relating to the writing and publication of Carson's books, pamphlets, articles, and speeches. Whenever feasible, the original arrangement of the material has been preserved, though at times this has perpetuated minor inconsistencies, separations, or overlaps, such as the division of a correspondence file into both subject and author categories. For each of Carson's four major books--Under the Sea Wind, The Sea Around Us, The Edge of the Sea, and Silent Spring --there are research materials, notes and notebooks, manuscript drafts, correspondence, promotional material, reviews, copies of abridgments or serializations, and related material. A posthumously published fifth book, A Sense of Wonder, was a republication of a magazine article and therefore has less manuscript and research material than the other titles. Although the order of drafts is not always clear, the extensive revisions for each title indicate the meticulousness of Carson's research and writing.

Books are arranged chronologically, with each title divided into Research Material, Manuscripts, and Post-Publication Material. Research Material contains both printed material and research correspondence. Manuscript material generally consists of notes and notebooks, holograph and typescript drafts, proof sheets, and printed versions (shorter works only). Post-Publication Material includes reviews and responses, awards, publicity material, and related correspondence.

The collection contains information on the origins of each of Carson's three sea books and Silent Spring. "A Memo to Mrs. Ecles on Under the Sea Wind (Box 3, folder 60) outlines the development of Carson's first book. An unpublished note, "Origins of the Book The Sea Around Us" (Box 9, folder 162), recounts the early research for her most popular sea book. Carson's letter to Paul Brooks on October 14, 1950 (Box 29, folder 500) gives details on her proposed book on the seashore, which Houghton Mifflin published in 1956 as The Edge of the Sea. Letters and memos in the extensive Houghton Mifflin correspondence file (Boxes 87-89) chart the development and publication of Silent Spring. Although Carson repeatedly stated that her work on Silent Spring was triggered by a letter from Olga Huckins lamenting the deaths of birds by indiscriminate pesticide spraying (Box 84, folder 1471), a letter to Harold Lynch of The Reader's Digest on July 15, 1945 (Box 44, folder 821: carbon only) clearly reveals her early distrust of DDT. Several letters to Houghton Mifflin editor Paul Brooks in November, 1955 (Box 87, folder 1525) speak of a contract for an "evolution book" that was eventually to be refocused as Silent Spring. In a letter of November 21 she refers to this proposed work on a "large subject" ("what we may best describe as the ecology of man") as "what may prove to be the most important book I have written."

The correspondence file for Under the Sea Wind (Box 3) contains letters to and from Simon and Schuster and Oxford University Press on the publication and reprinting of Carson's first book. An extensive file of uniquely decorative letters from author Hendrik van Loon (Box 3, folder 57) reveals van Loon's admiration of Carson's early work and his help in getting her book published by Simon and Schuster. Carson's letter to van Loon on February 5, 1938, discusses her choice of narrative form for Under the Sea Wind.

The research correspondence file for The Sea Around Us (Box 4, folders 66-77) contains informative letters from William Beebe, Thor Heyerdahl, and Hans Pettersson, among others. Heyerdahl's letter of February 2, 1950, recounts some of his observations on the Kon-Tiki expedition. Much of the correspondence with Oxford University Press (Box 12, folder 211-17) relates to the publicizing and reception of The Sea Around Us. A lengthy correspondence file with Jean Le Corbeiller of the Artists and Writers Guild (Box 16, folders 280-81) and with Simon and Schuster (Box 16, folder 282) reveals Carson's concern for necessary revisions in the Young Readers' edition of The Sea Around Us.

The research correspondence file for The Edge of the Sea contains an exchange of letters with Bob Hines about the illustrations for this book (Box 18, folder 321). Correspondence with Houghton Mifflin Company from 1951 to 1957 gives evidence of the preparation, publishing, and reception of Carson's third and final book of the sea (Box 29, folders 500-514).

The collection is especially rich in material relating to the writing, publication, and reception of Silent Spring, Carson's final and most controversial work. Extensive Research Material files contain an alphabetical arrangement of subject categories on many aspects of the pesticides controversy (Boxes 30-37) as well as correspondence with many leading scientists and environmentalists, among them C. J. Briejèr, Clarence Cottam, Frank Egler, Malcolm Hargraves, and Robert Cushman Murphy (Boxes 42-44). Smaller correspondence files for Supreme Court Judge William O. Douglas, documentarian Pare Lorentz, and author E. B. White contain letters relating primarily to Carson's support for conservation. Other resource material is grouped by chapter, while more general articles, essays, and pamphlets are listed alphabetically under the author's name. The Manuscripts subseries contains several holograph and typescript drafts and proof copies, as well as typescripts of the French, German, Icelandic, and Spanish translations. The original illustrations for Silent Spring, a gift of Louis and Lois Darling, can be found in Box 59, folder 1042, and Box 117, folders 2217-18.

Post-Publication Material for Silent Spring includes a large collection of reviews and responses arranged alphabetically by author, with unsigned reviews and responses placed at the end of each appropriate section; awards and honors; information on Congressional hearings prompted by the Silent Spring controversy; promotional material; subject files of pesticide-related material which Carson gathered for a projected sequel or later edition of Silent Spring; and related correspondence (grouped both by author and by subject), including an extensive file of letters and memos from Houghton Mifflin, the publisher of Silent Spring. Many of the fan letters for Silent Spring were sent to Houghton Mifflin, who usually answered them with appropriate form letters. Designations ("B," "H," etc.) placed at the top of many such letters indicate the type of reply to be sent.

The Shorter Works subseries is divided into Early Writings, Articles and Essays, Book Reviews, and Speeches. Early Writings contains copies of Carson's undergraduate English compositions (sketches, stories, poems, and a one-act play) at Pennsylvania College for Women (1925-29) and a copy of her M.A. thesis at Johns Hopkins University. An interesting item which reveals her early interest in writing and her love of animals is the typescript of an unpublished, seemingly autobiographical, juvenile short story entitled "Just Dogs," written when Carson was fifteen and submitted to the Author's Press under "The Irving System," which for a fee provided analysis and possible placement of a manuscript.

Articles and Essays are arranged alphabetically by title, with variant titles noted. For many entries, there are several drafts, working notes, and related correspondence. A number of her published articles, especially those on the sea, were later incorporated into her books. Several essays appear to be as yet unpublished.

Carson's speeches range from brief comments to lengthy addresses before national conventions. Included are her acceptance speeches for the Henry S. Bryant Medal of the Geographical Society of Philadelphia (1952), the National Book Award (1952), the Cullum Medal of the American Geological Society (1963), the Audubon Medal of the National Audubon Society (1963), the Conservationist of the Year award from the National Wildlife Federation (1963), and the Schweitzer Award of the Animal Welfare Institute (1963); commencement addresses at Drexel Institute (1956) and Scripps College (1962); and a lengthy paper presented at the Kaiser Foundation symposium on "Pollution of Our Environment" (1963). Also included here are typescripts of her statements for Congressional hearings on "Environmental Hazards" and "Control of Pesticides and Other Chemical Poisons" (1963).

Series II, General Correspondence (Boxes 102-06), contains correspondence to and from Rachel Carson not specifically related to one of her works. The bulk of the letters are to Carson, but a number of files contain original letters or carbons from Carson. Although relatively short, this series contains several important groups of letters. An extensive correspondence with Carson's literary agent Marie Rodell (1948-64) reveals much about Carson's method of research and writing, as well as her concern for the business side of her publications (advertising, contract stipulations, author's fees, translation concerns, etc.). As a whole, this file provides a record of an unusually close author-agent relationship and thus has been kept intact in General Correspondence rather than having been dispersed among the various correspondence files in Writings. A brief series of letters (mostly undated) from Carson's mother Maria, while commenting on everyday family matters, gives evidence of a close mother-daughter relationship and reflects a mother's pride in her daughter's accomplishments.

Much insight into Carson's thoughts and work habits can be found in her correspondence with Ruth Nanda Anshan of World Perspectives (Harper and Brothers), Shirley Briggs, Clarence Cottam, Richard Pough, Marjorie Spock, and Edwin Way Teale. Her interest in birds is shown in a series of letters to Ada C. Govan, a bird-bander in Massachusetts. A letter to Govan on February 5, 1947 also comments on her frustration with writing and her unwillingness to try to live by the pen. A letter to Lois Crisler on May 7, 1959 discusses possible titles for Silent Spring and reveals her animosity toward the "poisoning activities" of the Fish and Wildlife Service. A later letter to Crisler on August 19, 1959 (?) explains her choice of Silent Spring as the final title.

Other noteworthy correspondents are Loren Eisley, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Curtis Bok. Letters from Adlai Stevenson and President John F. Kennedy thank Carson for her contributions to conservation, while letters to and from Dr. George Crile relate to her medical history and her fight with cancer. An amusing series of irate letters to the Musical Masterpiece Society shows that she was not immune to anger.

Perhaps the most revealing, and certainly the most heartwarming, correspondence is an exchange of letters between Carson and Beverly Knecht, a young blind woman hospitalized for lengthy periods with diabetes and associated problems. Having been informed of Miss Knecht's illness and learning of her admiration for Carson's sea books, Carson entered into a frequent exchange of letters with the young woman, offering her advice on both medical matters and writing. Clearly impressed by this woman's courage and fortitude, Carson developed a close friendship via this exchange of letters. Unfortunately, the correspondence in the Beinecke covers only the period between October, 1958 and May, 1959. A letter of April 12, 1959, discusses her progress on Silent Spring. Other letters discuss Carson's favorite authors, her tastes in music, and her intense love of nature.

Included in General Correspondence are fan letters and requests for information, for speaking engagements, and for contributions to magazines or newspapers. A folder of correspondence between Carson and various institutions (Box 106, folder 2036) reveals her plans for the disposition of her manuscripts and research material.

Series III, Personal Papers , consists of additional material related to Carson's life and work, arranged alphabetically by subject. Included in this series are awards and citations not given for a specific work, tributes, biographical information, notes and notebooks, obituary notices, photographs, subject files, printed material, and miscellaneous items.

The subseries Notes and Notebooks contains research material not clearly related to a particular work. Several notebooks deal with various aspects of sea study and undoubtedly were notes for one of her first three books. The small Photographs subseries consists mainly of publicity photos of Carson, although there is one photograph of her family as well as photos of Louis and Lois Darling and Bob Hines, the illustrators of two of her books.

Printed Material files consist of numerous articles and brochures collected by Carson on both scientific and non-scientific topics, as well as several items added to the collection after her death. Subject Files contain articles and clippings on scientific subjects of particular interest to Carson, most of them relating to her study of the sea.

Oversize Material is located in boxes 114-18.


  • 1921 - 1989


Physical Description

Other Storage Formats: oversize, 1 cold storage item

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 119, Folders 2222-2223: Restricted fragile material. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Rachel Carson Papers is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The majority of the material in the collection was a bequest to Yale University in 1965; later additions were primarily gifts of Houghton Mifflin Company in 1968; Marie Rodell, Rachel Carson's literary agent, in 1973; and Lois Darling in 1983.


55 Linear Feet ((122 boxes) + 2 cold storage)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Rachel Carson Papers consist of manuscripts, notebooks, letters, newspaper clippings, photos, and printed material relating to the research and publications of Rachel Carson.

RACHEL CARSON (1907-1964)

Rachel Louise Carson, noted biologist and environmentalist who fascinated readers with three books on the wonders of the sea and awakened the American public to the dangers of pesticide misuse with a highly controversial bestseller, was born on May 27, 1907, in Springdale, Pennsylvania, the youngest of three children of Robert and Maria Carson. Attending public schools in Springdale and nearby Parnassus, she was interested in writing at an early age and submitted a number of juvenile stories, poems, and essays to leading youth magazines, winning several prizes from the St. Nicholas Magazine for her contributions.

At the Pennsylvania College for Women (later to become Chatham College), she quickly developed an interest in biology, served as president of the Science Club, and graduated magna cum laude in 1929. Deciding to pursue a career in biology, she enrolled in the graduate program at Johns Hopkins University in 1930, studying genetics under H. S. Jennings and Raymond Pearl. After receiving her M.S. in 1932, she held part-time teaching positions at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland until 1936.

She then joined the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D. C., as an aquatic biologist and began her publishing career with a series of articles on various aspects of the sea for the Baltimore Sun. Her first major publication, an article entitled "Undersea," appeared in the September, 1937 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. She served as editor-in-chief of the Fish and Wildlife Service's publications from 1949 to 1952, when she resigned from the Service to devote more time to writing. For her contributions she was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Department of the Interior.

Rachel Carson's first book, Under the Sea Wind, attracted little notice on its appearance in 1941, although it was a book-of-the-month selection of the Scientific Book Club. However, her second book on the sea, The Sea Around Us (1951), the research for which was made possible by a Eugene Saxton Fellowship in 1949, remained on the best-seller lists for eighty-six weeks, was eventually translated into thirty languages, and received many awards, among them the National Book Award for 1952, the John Burroughs Medal, and gold medals from the Geographical Society of Philadelphia and the New York Zoological Society. A poll of the Associated Press's women editors named Carson the Woman of the Year in Literature for 1951. Among her many honorary memberships in scientific and literary organizations were elections to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the Royal Society of Literature. The critical acclaim for The Sea Around Us paved the way to a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1951.

A reissue of Under the Sea-Wind in 1952 was well received; and her third book, The Edge of the Sea (1955), which shifted focus from the sea to the shore, nearly equalled the popularity of The Sea Around Us and firmly established Carson as the most popular scientific writer in the country.

Long interested in the delicate balance between man and nature, Carson in her next book examined man's destruction of his environment through the careless use of pesticides. Silent Spring (1962) may well be the most controversial American book of the twentieth century. Its first appearance in serial form in The New Yorker triggered the wrath of the chemical industry and associated groups and made Rachel Carson a household name. The continuing controversy sparked federal investigation into the misuse of pesticides and resulted in lengthy Congressional hearings in 1963. Among the many honors accorded Silent Spring were 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.

After a long fight with cancer, Rachel Carson died on April 14, 1964. Among many posthumous tributes were a dedication in June, 1964 of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge on the Maine coast and the founding of a Rachel Carson Memorial Fund by the National Audubon Society.

Guide to the Rachel Carson Papers
by William K. Finley
February 1990
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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