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An Exchange of Letters

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In 2009, a collection of George Wallace’s papers and books was donated to the MSU Museum by his family. Museum staff discovered 28 letters exchanged between Rachel Carson and George Wallace. The letters document a correspondence over six years (1958–1964), revealing great respect and warmth.

Image of Rachel Carson and George Wallace

On October 2, 1958, in his first letter to Carson, Wallace writes:

Image of the first letter to Carson from Wallace

Over the years, Carson enquires after details of Wallace’s work, and Wallace responds with results and updates of research in progress. For a year from September 1960 to October 1961, their correspondence lapses. Carson writes to Wallace on October 8, 1961, regarding her deteriorating health:

“I hope you can forgive me when I explain that a long and quite severe illness set in shortly after that (the last letter), with the result that for a long period I did no work and wrote no letters.”

Carson deliberated for some time before choosing the book’s title. In a letter of April 14, 1962, Wallace writes:

“Somehow I liked the earlier title … ‘Man Against Nature?’—better than ‘Silent Spring’. In spite of seven years of spraying our campus is hardly silent. We have an abundance of quite vociferous grackles, starlings, house sparrows, domestic pigeons, and semi-domesticated mallards.”

Image of the letter to Wallace from Carson

Rachel Carson and George Wallace maintained their correspondence after the release of the book. In what may be the last letter between the two (January 23, 1964), discussing recent field experiments at MSU comparing effects of DDT and another treatment for Dutch Elm Disease, methoxychlor, Carson writes to Wallace:

“...a lot of these things seem to me an attempt to impress the public with activities whereas actually what is being done is pretty meaningless. On the whole, however, I agree with you that some of the recent activities do represent progress and certainly the awakened public opinion is a good thing.”

Three months later, Rachel Carson died. There is no record that Rachel Carson and George Wallace ever met.