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Marjorie Spock (1904-2008), younger sister of famous child development expert and peace activist Benjamin Spock played a pivotal, if not well known role in the writing and eventual publication of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring. The story of Spock's challenge to the government's use of DDT on Long Island shows how losing a battle can still help toward progress. And although the war against poisonous chemicals in our land, water and food has not been won, the increasing knowledge of and demand for pure food and water is a hopeful sign for the future.

Follow me below the fold for a sketch of what Marjorie Spock accomplished toward the banning of DDT.

In the 1950s, Marjorie and her friend Mary Theodora (Polly) Richards, set up housekeeping in Brookville, LI. They began a garden using Biodynamic principles. Polly suffered from multiple chemical sensitivity, especially with regard to food. Organic and alternative food was not easily available back then, which is why the garden was so important.

But in the summer of 1957, federal and state planes came and sprayed a mixture of DDT and fuel oil over the entire area as part of pesticide program. Millions of acres were involved. Marjorie covered their land with plastic, but the fuel base dissolved it, and Spock and Richards' garden, animals and soil were completely contaminated.

Anger over this propelled the women to sue the state and federal government. They hired Roger Hinds as their lawyer and along with twelve other plaintiffs, filed for an temporary injunction against the sprayings (which were being done up to fourteen times a day). The judge, while refusing to grant the injunction because they didn't present enough evidence DDT was harmful, encouraged them to go back, gather more evidence and file for a permanent injunction against the spraying.

They did just that, and collected data and testimony from expert witnesses.

The trial began in the US Federal Court in Brooklyn, NY on February 10, 1958. From Linda Lear's book, Rachel Carson, Witness for Nature, p.319

The trial lasted tewnty-two days. Spock recalls that in spite of a fine legal team and mountains of evidence, "the government ran rough shop over any one who got in the way of the new technology. They brushed us off like so many flies." In the end the judge, a man recently appointed to the federal bench by President Dwight Eisenhower, threw out seventy-two uncontested admissions for the plaintiffs and denied their petition. It took three years to exhaust all legal appeals. When the case finally reached the US Supreme Court in 1960, it was declined on a technicality.Associate Justice William O. Douglas, howver, wrote a strong dissenting opinion supporting the case on its merits.

So, what on the surface was a bitter loss actually didn't turn out that way. Rachel Carson was among the environmentalists and activists following the case as it wended through the courts. Spock shared the information gathered for the case with Carson as she was writing Silent Spring.

The publication of Silent Spring ignited a huge public debate over the use of DDT, leading to Congressional hearings and an eventual ban of the chemical.

Information for this diary was gathered from Henry Barnes's book Into the Heart's Land, Chapter 10, authored by Theresa Woods Barnes.

Originally posted to freedapeople on Wed Apr 22, 2009 at 07:36 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips for pioneer (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peace voter, Munchkn, IDrankWhat

    environmental activists.

    •  Thanks for sharing this (0+ / 0-)

      I had no idea about Marjorie Spock's part in the writing of Silent Spring.

      I frequently meet one of my neighbors while she's walking her dogs. She tries her best to keep Lucy and Teddy off recently sprayed lawns as exposure to lawn chemicals is the leading cause of cancer in dogs.

      Thank you Marjorie and Polly for your efforts to stop the spraying of DDT.

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