USM events celebrate 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking ‘Silent Spring’

It was 50 years ago this year when environmentalist Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” was published. That book was controversial at the time for evaluating the impacts of chemical pesticides on birds and the environment, as the chemical users and producers waged a public relations war on Carson and her character.

But that backfired. President John F. Kennedy had his science advisers vindicate Carson’s research, then began work developing tougher regulations for pesticides. The “green” movement we all take for granted today, from efforts to make homes and vehicles more energy efficient to stringent pollution standards, started in large part with “Silent Spring.”

Next week, the University of Southern Maine is launching a series of events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the book. On Monday night, USM’s Martha Freeman, whose grandmother was Carson’s summertime neighbor here in Maine, will give a talk about her family ties to the now legendary environmentalist.

Freeman is the author of “Always Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman, 1952-1964,” and Monday’s free presentation is titled “Rachel Carson in My Life: Memories and Meaning.” That gets underway at 5:30 p.m. at the Wishcamper Center in Portland.

On Thursday, Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho headlines a group of panelists slated to discuss how Carson’s work influenced them. Others on the panel include Lisa Pohlmann of the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Kate Cheney Chappell, co-founder of the environmentally friendly personal care product company Tom’s of Maine. That’s at 5 p.m. at the Hannaford Lecture Hall.

Additionally, the film “A Sense of Wonder,” about Carson’s efforts to deliver her message about the dangers of pesticides to Congress and the public, will be shown at all three USM campuses. The showings will be at 11:45 a.m. Monday at the Wishcamper Center in Portland, 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Brooks Faculty Dining room in Gorham, and 1 p.m. Thursday in Room 287 at Lewiston-Auburn College.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.