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Government Information: Rachel Carson

The Government Information guide is a gateway to information produced by the government, including an overview of the government documents collection at Connecticut College.


In addition to the general library collection, which provides ample opportunity to research Carson and her work, Shain Library also houses The Linda Lear Collection of Rachel Carson Books and Papers on the 2nd floor of Shain Library, as well as various related works in our government documents collection. This guide aims to shed light on the latter.

After all, "Carson did her major work while she was an employee of the Federal government." 

-Wayne Rasmussen. Agricultural History Society. July 1, 1993. The Linda Lear Collection of Rachel Carson Books and Papers, Box 29, File 9. Connecticut College. Correspondence.

Rachel Carson died two years after the publication of Silent Spring, a book that unexpectedly changed the course of history. It attracted the attention of President John F. Kennedy with its serialization in The New Yorker magazine (June 1962), several months before it was even published in book form (September 1962). Within a decade, sweeping environmental laws were enacted, and Carson has been called the fountainhead of the modern environmental movement.*

We know from the scholarship of Linda Lear that Carson was fortunate to have worked with the wildlife scientists at the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), because it was "the one agency in the government [that] had a long standing record of concern about the widespread use of synthetic pesticides" (Lear, "Rachel Carson's Silent Spring," Environmental History Review 17.2 (Summer, 1993): 29). Located near the FWS research facility in suburban Washington, DC, where Carson worked, there were two other facilities operated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, where DDT and other synthetic pesticides were tested.

Carson's behind-the-scenes familiarity with the USDA's pesticide research was the starting place for what would become Silent Spring.


Congressional Hearings

Rachel Carson testified as a witness in person before a congressional hearing only twice. But the impact of her work on policy discussions is made clear by the many, varied ways in which she is invoked in hundreds of congressional hearings over the decades.

Congressional Hearings in Shain Library:

  • OneSearch - try a basic keyword search, then using the facets at the left, limit to the Charles E. Shain Library, then limit to US Federal Documents; try adding the word "hearing" (without quotes)
  • Proquest Congressional (database) - a treasure trove of congressional hearings and other publications; try using the drop-down feature to search by keyword in the full-text of hearings, or by witness name

Witness testimony by Carson:

On April 4, 1963, six months after the publication of Silent Spring, and the day after CBS aired the prime-time television special "The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson," Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff announced a congressional review of environmental pollution and pesticide use. These hearings began on May 16th. Carson testified as a witness on June 4th (p. 206).

Two days after the "Ribicoff Hearing," on June 6, 1963, Carson testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce (p. 16). Senator Maurine Neuberger had introduced two bills to control the spraying of pesticides.

There are many congressional hearings in Shain Library on related topics. The names of the witnesses at these hearings read like a who's who of people working on the issues, including Connecticut College professor of botany, Dr. William A. Niering. Try the search tips listed above.

Conservation in Action series

On assignment at the Fish & Wildlife Service in the late 1940s, Carson contributed to the highly regarded Conservation Bulletins. 

Related Documents Online

Carson, Rachel. "Food from the Sea; Fish and Shellfish of New England." Conservation Bulletin 33. US Fish & Wildlife Service. 1943.

Carson, Rachel. "Help Your Child to Wonder." Women's Home Companion. July 1956.

Farinholt, Mary K. The New Masked Man in Agriculture: Pesticides and the Health of the Agricultural Users. Cleveland: National Consumers Committee for Research and Education, 1962.

"Use of Pesticides." A Report of the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC). The White House. Washington, DC: 15 May 1963.

Now what?

What can you do in honor of Rachel Carson?

Go outside and explore the wonders of our natural world!*


Presidential Papers

President John F. Kennedy took pride in being well read. One of his favorite magazines was The New Yorker, in which Silent Spring was serialized in 1962. He is pictured above with his cabinet in the White House, 1961.*

At a press conference on August 29, 1962, in response to a question about the potential dangers of widespread pesticide use, President Kennedy made reference to Carson's book.

Search the Public Papers of the Presidents:

Other presidential publications:

  • Kennedy commissioned the report of the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), "Use of Pesticides,published by the White House in Washington, DC, 15 May 1963.
  • Kennedy wrote an introduction to then Secretary of Interior, Stewart Udall's book, The Quiet Crisis, also in 1963.

Location of notable documents


Given the history of Shain Library and its collections, government publications can actually be found in every section of the library. Newer government documents (post-1950) are located in the compact shelving area on the lower-level as pictured above (SuDoc classification). Older documents (pre-1950) are located in the Dewey compact shelving area (Dewey Decimal classification), right across from gov docs. Other works could be classified in the general collection (Library of Congress classification):


SuDoc Classification (lower-level)

A: Department of Agriculture (USDA) 

A1.76:103 Insecticide Recommendations of the Entomology Research Branch for the Control of Insects Attacking Crops and Livestock (1956)

A77.245 Family Economics Review (1961-1992)

A93.26 Agricultural Economics Research (1949-1987)

A94.11 Agricultural Science Review (1963-1974)

C: Department of Commerce (DoC) 

Environmental Management Publications

EP: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 

HE: Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 

I: Department of Interior

I49: United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) 

I49.2:M31/3 Man and Nature in the City: A Symposium (1968)

I49.4:36 Fishery Publication Index (1920-1964)

I49.4:107 Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (1961)

I49.4:138 Indian Backgrounds of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (1962)

I49.4:140 Your Stake in Wetlands (1962)

I49.4:167 Pesticide-Wildlife Studies (1961-1964)

I49.4:214 Guide for Buying Fresh and Frozen Fish and Shellfish (1965)

I49.4:220 Wildlife Research: Problems, Programs, Progress (1962, 1964)

I49.4:226 Effects of Pesticides on Fish and Wildlife (1965)

Y4: Congressional publications (e.g. Hearings)

Y4.Ag8/1 Committee on Agriculture (House)

Y4.C73/2 Committee on Commerce (Senate)

Y4.M53 Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries

Y4.P96 Committee on Public Works


Dewey Decimal Classification ​(lower-level)

597.Un3 - Fishery Bulletin of the FWS (1888-1972)

597.Un3i - Investigational Report FWS (1931-1972)

597.Un3r - Annual report Fisheries Commissioner (1924-1939)

630.6 Un3 - Yearbook of Agriculture (1926-1972)

630.6 Un3f - Farmers' Bulletin (1895-1975)

630.6 Un3t - Technical Bulletin USDA (1928-1968)


Library of Congress Classification (2nd & 3rd floors)

S930.U3 - The Quiet Crisis by Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, with an introduction by President John F. Kennedy

SB951.C64 - Conference on Insecticide Resistance and Insect Physiology (1952)

SK351 - Transactions of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference (1947-2004)






  • Hired by Elmer Higgins at the US Bureau of Fisheries in Washington, DC to write 52 short radio programs on marine life called "Romance Under the Waters."
  • Employed by Bureau of Fisheries in the Department of Commerce as a junior aquatic biologist. Begins free lance writing on the Chesapeake Bay topics for various publications including The Baltimore Sun.


  • Carson’s article "Undersea" is published in the Atlantic Monthly.


  • DDT was first synthesized in 1874 but in 1939 its use as an insecticide was discovered and became the first of the modern, synthetic insecticdes.


  • Carson transferred to Chicago office of Bureau of Fisheries while departmental reorganization continues.


  • Simon & Schuster publish Carson’s first book, Under the Sea-Wind. Art work is by Howard Frech, an artist Carson worked with at the Baltimore Sun. It is picked up as a selection of the Scientific Book Club, but outbreak of WWII impacts sales and the book goes out of print in 1946. 


  • Carson is promoted to Aquatic Biologist and then to Information Specialist in the Information Division of FWS, and relocated to Tacoma, Park, MD. Involved in policy planning for the Office of the Coordinator of Fisheries. Wartime research includes radar and sea studies. Clarence Cottam is Carson’s supervisor.


  • Proposes an article on DDT to Reader’s Digest since the research from Patuxent Wildlife Refuge comes across her desk. Reader’s Digest turns it down as too "unpleasant."


  • Begins "Conservation in Action Series" 12 projected booklets for the USFWS to highlight the new National Refuge System. Carson travels with fellow FWS artist Shirley Brigg to Chincoteaque, and Parker River Refuges, 1946, 1947 to Mattamuskeet, and out west to Red Rock Lakes with artist Kay Howe Roberts. Includes research for Bear River.


  • Becomes Editor-in-Chief of all FWS publications.


  • Manuscript for the The Sea Around Us is sold to Oxford University Press. The New Yorker agrees to publish nine chapters in three parts in the winter of 1951 as "Profiles" -- the first time a non-human subject has been chosen for the prestigious column.


  • Carson resigns from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to write full time.


  • The Edge of the Sea is published.


  • "Help Your Child to Wonder" is published in Woman’s Home Companion.


  • Fire Ant controversy with USDA spraying of pesticides in the South. An agricultural equivalent of the Atomic Bomb for agriculture. 


  • Long Island Federal Court, testimony regarding spraying of toxic chemical pesticides in fuel oil by airplane over private land to rid Dutch elm disease and mosquitors. Robert Cushman Murphy and Marjorie Spock and Mary Richards principals.


  • William Shawn editor of The New Yorker calls to say he has read the manuscript of Silent Spring and wants to run it in the spring.


  • On June 16, a condensed form of Silent Spring is serialized in The New Yorker. 
  • At a press conference on August 29, President John F. Kennedy pledges an investigation of Carson's findings.
  • Silent Spring is published in book form on September 27.


  • April 3: CBS Reports with Eric Sevareid airs "The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson" on national television. A triumph for Carson over her critics. 
  • April 4: Carson testifies before the U.S. Senate Committee on Government Operations (Ribicoff Sub committee). Calls for a limit to the number of pesticides in use. Two days later Carson testifies before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee.
  • May 15: The President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) issued its report "Use of Pesticides," upholding Rachel Carson’s warnings on misuse of pesticides (May).
  • The Clean Air Act authorizes federal hearings and legal actions.


  • The Wilderness Act establishes the National Wilderness Preservation System.
  • April 11, Rachel Carson dies at age 58 in Silver Spring, MD.


  • National Historic Preservation Act passed
  • Endangered Species Act passed


  • Environmental Defense Fund established

Source: timeline adapted from