The Life of Belle Pauling – Linus Pauling’s Mother

Belle Pauling with her infant son, Linus. 1901.

Belle Pauling with her infant son, Linus. 1901.

(Part 1 of 2)

We begin the story of Belle Pauling, Linus Pauling’s mother, with Linus Wilson Darling, Belle’s father and Linus Pauling’s maternal grandfather.

In 1863, Linus Wilson Darling’s father abandoned his family in Collingwood, Ontario, leaving his wife to struggle financially on her own. As a result, she sent her four eldest children, including Linus, to a foster home in New Jersey.  When he was fifteen, Linus ran away from this home and made his way to Chicago, where he both worked and lived in a bakery.  From there, he set out west, eventually settling near Salem, Oregon, and began teaching high school.

One of his students was Alcy Delilah Neal.  The two began courting and were married in 1878.  As they moved around Oregon, looking for a place to settle, they began having children.  Their second daughter, Lucy Isabelle “Belle” Darling was born on April 13, 1881, while the family was living in Lonerock, a tiny town in eastern Oregon.

The family had arrived on hard times there and were, in fact, facing starvation. But they were saved when Linus bet his saddle against fifty dollars on Grover Cleveland to win the upcoming presidential election over James G. Blaine.  Funded by those winnings, they moved twenty miles northwest, to Condon, where Linus opened up the town’s first general store selling patent medicines and running the post office – enough to keep him a busy man.

Three years after moving to Condon, when Belle was seven, her mother Alcy gave birth to a stillborn son. Badly injured by the traumatic birthing process, Alcy also passed away, one month later.

Linus however continued to lead a busy life. As he began to study law he occasionally hired a woman to help take care of the household, but mostly left it up to his four daughters – Goldie, Belle, Lucile and Abigail, all born in a span of five years – whom he called the “Four Queens.”  (A fifth queen, Florence, was at the time too young to pitch in.) The bulk of this work often defaulted to the oldest daughter, Goldie.

Linus eventually remarried, finding a younger widow who owned a large wheat farm and an extra ten thousand dollars to her name.  This new-found financial support allowed Linus to become a gentleman farmer and begin his law practice.


Belle Darling posing with her father on her wedding day, 1900.

Belle Darling posing with her father on her wedding day, 1900.

For Belle, this period was one of contrasts. Her mother gone, the household responsibilities mounting, and her father mostly a distant man, she began suffering from bouts of depression.  On the other hand, her new family’s wealth and large home made her one of the Condon elite as a teenager.

Indeed, the family resources offered some measure of protection from the economic depression plaguing the country, and the family was occasionally able to take shopping trips to Portland for dresses and other fineries unavailable in the small farming town. In 1895, Belle and Goldie also took advantage of the opportunity to attend boarding school at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.  Belle did fairly well academically, earning marks of 85 in Bible, 91 in grammar, and 98 in arithmetic.  But she did not enjoy the boarding school experience and came back to Condon after her first term.  Her older sister, Goldie, was able to make it through the rest of the year before coming home.

Returned to Condon, Belle slipped anew into her role as one of the town’s elite young women.  One day, in the fall of 1899, Goldie invited the seventeen-year-old Belle over to her home, to meet Condon’s new druggist, Herman Pauling.  Herman quickly earned the respect of the town and was the guest of honor at several dinners and dances.  At these events, he and Belle often ended up talking with one other.  The more time they spent together, the closer the two became, and by Christmas of the same year, they were engaged to be married the following May. Their lavish wedding was attended by nearly the whole town.

The fairy tale ended quickly, however, when Herman was forced to look for work: the investors backing his Condon pharmacy had pulled out, forcing Herman to search for a new job.  Since the Condon area was not big enough to support Herman on its own, he and Belle moved to Portland, finding a residence near Chinatown.


Linus Pauling with his sister Pauline, 1904.

Linus Pauling with his sister Pauline, 1904.

Belle was eager to take advantage of the entertainment and shopping possibilities that had once only been accessible following a long trip from Condon.  Yet she was pregnant before she and Herman had left Condon and on February 28, 1901, she gave birth to their first child, Linus, named for Belle’s father.  Soon after the birth, Belle took Linus back to Condon to visit her family.  While there, they both came down with an illness, but quickly recovered and were back in Portland by May.

Linus was quickly followed by his first sister, Pauline, born in August 1902. Frances Lucile (or “Lucie,” named after one of Belle’s favorite poems by Owen Meredith) arrived on New Year’s Day 1904.

When Herman found a job as a traveling salesman, Belle was frequently left alone to care for the children.  Her unquenched desire to enjoy the city, her absent husband, and her mounting responsibilities as a parent all combined to engender a growing resentment. Frustrated, she repeatedly wrote to her husband while he was on the road, admonishing him for not making enough money and spending so little time at home. Herman usually responded that he was doing all that he could to provide for Belle and the children, and that their future as a family would be brighter.

In 1904, attempting to arrive at this brighter future, Herman took a new job – one that still required travel but was based in Salem. His hope was that doing so would give him more time at home since Salem was more centrally located in the Willamette Valley.  The job did not last long though, and Herman was soon searching for new opportunities.  Once again, the family turned to old territory: Condon seemed promising as Herman could open up his own store there with the help of Goldie’s husband.  And so it was that, in April of 1905, with Herman already ahead of them, Belle packed up the remainder of their belongings and moved with the children to her old hometown.


A group photo including the Pauling children: Pauline (front row left), Lucile (front row right) and Linus (back row right).

A group photo including the Pauling children: Pauline (front row left), Lucile (front row right) and Linus (back row right). 1906.

The Paulings’ new home was above the general store that belonged to Goldie’s husband, Herbert Stephenson.  Here, little Linus was free to roam around the town, while Belle stayed at home looking after her daughters.  During the harvest period, Belle would also help at the Stephenson wheat farm by cooking for all the temporary workers brought in to process the grain.

Moving to Condon meant that Herman was always close by and that he made a good income, albeit with a brief interlude of lean times caused by yet another national financial depression.  Condon was able to bounce back due to its rising population of homesteaders taking advantage of the free 320 acres being offered by the federal government, a boon that combined nicely with a run of increased wheat harvests and the addition of a Northern Pacific rail spur.  Nonetheless, Belle was not happy in Condon:  Herman was still working over twelve hours a day, she missed the culture and excitement of Portland, and the summers were unbearably hot.  The latter two issues were solved, at least in part, by annual summer trips to the milder Portland suburb of Oswego, where Belle and the children stayed with Herman’s parents.

While visiting Oswego in the summertime allowed Belle to take in events like the centenary celebration of the Lewis and Clark expedition, she did not like being away from Herman. Letters to her husband sent during this period are full of anxiety over Herman’s fidelity and the family’s financial situation.  By the end of the summer of 1909, Belle had convinced Herman that the family should move back to Portland, though Herman did not need too much convincing on his part, as he was also ready to leave behind the heat and petty small town politics.


Belle Pauling, early 1900s.

Belle Pauling, early 1900s.

The family moved to East Portland, where Herman opened up another drugstore in a fast-growing neighborhood.  Again he worked long hours, leaving Belle to take care of the children.  But Belle also took advantage of being back in Portland by enrolling in German classes at a nearby high school.  Since Herman’s business was slow to start, he used his free time to study German as well, providing Belle and Herman with a rare leisure pursuit that they could share as a couple.

The happy times were not destined to last. In April 1910, the dark clouds began to gather when Belle’s father passed away.  While Belle had never been particularly close with her dad, his passing was still difficult for her.

Three months later, Belle, her sisters, and their children were attending the Rose Festival in Portland and when they returned they found Herman at home in tremendous pain. Herman’s stomach aches, the result of an ulcer, were a recurrent issue for him, but they had never struck so severely.  The attack, as it turned out, was fatal – he died soon after they returned.  Belle was emotionally devastated, financially imperiled and, widowed with three children, staring at a very uncertain future.

Herman Pauling: Striving for a Better Life

Herman Pauling with his three children in Salem, Oregon, where the family briefly lived.

Herman Pauling with his three children in Salem, Oregon, where the family briefly lived.

(Part 2 of 2)

His family settled in Salem but not happy about it, it did not take long for Herman Pauling to look for new employment opportunitiess, and in March 1905 he traveled to Portland to explore the possibility of opening a drugstore.  After visiting the Skidmore Drug Company, his old employer, and deciding that Portland was not going to work out, Herman once again set his sights on Condon.

With the help of Belle’s brother-in-law, Herbert Stephenson, Herman was able to locate a storefront and a place for his family to live.  The logistics settled, Herman wrote to Belle back in Salem, asking her to come join him so that they could start their life anew.  Herman’s letter also revealed a deeper motivation behind his relentless work ethic:

We cannot imagine what it is but I feel that either ourselves or our children will someday stand before the world as a specimen of a high standard of intelligence.


Linus Pauling, a Condon Cowboy at age 5.

Linus Pauling, a Condon Cowboy at age 5.

Condon was in the midst of an economic boom when the Paulings came to town.  The Northern Pacific Railroad had built a spur to Condon to help connect the area’s abundant wheat harvests with the rest of the country.  The town’s favorable economic conditions helped the population to grow and, being the only druggist in town, Herman benefited from the rising tide.  He brought his store to the town’s attention by placing large ads in the weekly Globe newspaper, announcing products like “Pauling’s Pink Pills for Paling,” “Pauling’s Improved Blood Purifier,” and “Pauling’s Barb Wire Cure.”  Herman also sold postcards featuring his son, Linus, dressed up and captioned:  “A Condon Cowboy.”

Condon brought its challenges as well.  The summer heat was hard on Herman and Belle too had also grown accustomed to the milder summer of the Willamette Valley.  To escape the heat, Belle and the children would travel to Oswego for long stays with Herman’s parents, while Herman himself stayed behind to manage the store.  By his second summer in Condon, Herman began conjuring up ideas for how he could get out of eastern Oregon, but it took a few years and more struggles before that would come to pass.


Promotional calendar offered by H.W. Pauling, druggist. 1907.

Promotional calendar offered by H.W. Pauling, druggist. 1907.

The financial panic of 1907 reached out from Wall Street to all corners of the country, including Condon, and it made a negative impact on Herman’s business.  To help shore up his income, Herman partnered with a jeweler who promptly died the following year, leaving Herman to take over his role while also expanding into other areas, like selling eyeglasses.  Herman’s associations through his many fellowship organizations, including Woodmen of the World and the Odd Fellows, helped to keep the drugstore profitable both through and after the panic, but staying afloat did not come easy.

Combined with his continuing need to engage in business travel, Herman’s long hours at work brought more and more pressure on his marriage.  Belle was outspoken about her disappointment in Herman, while Herman tried to do what he could to keep their problems out of the range of the children.  In one letter, Herman let out what he had been holding back.

I have quite enough to worry me without asking you to peck, peck, peck at me.  But I guess you cannot help it, as that blessing is characteristic of the Darling family… Were it not for trying to get a start financially so you and the little ones may live in an abbreviated form of luxury in later years, I would not stay in this God forsaken hole a moment.  You have discouraged me so often in my efforts that I would think you would eventually come to a conclusion to encourage me a little by discontinuing your nonsensical jealousy.

Ground down by the pressures of life, Herman’s health began to suffer.  He developed insomnia and what he described as a “tummick ake,” a condition that would sometimes incapacitate him, leaving him bedridden.  More often that not however, his stomach problems could be soothed simply by eating something.  Armed with an easy method for treating his symptoms, he pushed along as best as he could.


The Pauling children, 1908.

The Pauling children, 1908.

Though he was unable to spend much time with them, Herman adored his children and sought to be the best possible role model, always hoping that they would grow up to be “an asset to the human race.”  He brought his son to work with him and Linus maintained memories of watching his father concoct various medicines, using careful measurements while also testing the compounds through various chemical reactions.

Herman also looked after Linus, who could get into trouble when he was not at home or in his father’s store.  One day Linus was exploring a building that was in the process of being constructed.  One of the workmen saw him there and was angered.  Linus tried to climb out the window, but the workman caught him before he could escape and ended up giving the young boy a beating.

When Linus came crying to his father, Herman immediately went out, found the workman, and punched him to the ground.  As Linus later remembered, his father was arrested soon afterwards.  Though Linus had associated his father’s arrest with assaulting the workman, according to biographer Thomas Hager, the arrest was more likely tied to charges of bootlegging that had been levied against Herman. (He was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.)

While most of the town appreciated Herman, some locals felt otherwise.  After Herman had organized a Fourth of July celebration and run advertisements in the program for the day’s baseball game, the other jeweler in town wrote a letter to the editor of the Globe, attacking his competitor for his advertising tactics.  Herman did not stand for this public affront and retaliated by writing a lengthy response, titled “The Truth Will Out,” that described how “Sorehead Charlie” was being unfair and that, in business, having enemies is helpful, but not at the cost of fair play.  The exchange went on for several weeks until both sides eventually calmed down.

As time passed, Herman and Belle became increasingly eager to get out of Condon. Herman did not like dealing with the recurrent diphtheria and whooping cough which a few of the area’s children.  Belle, as had been the case since they first married, wanted Herman to work less, frequently complaining about his work schedule, which often ran to fourteen hours per day. In early 1909, the final catalyst for a move came about in an unexpected fashion, when Herman’s store caught fire. The local firefighters who responded to the blaze wound up causing even more damage by breaking the store’s front window and the glass figures that were on display.  Badly shaken, Herman focused intently on relocating and, by the fall, had saved enough money to move his family to Portland.


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Back in the big city, Herman spent some time at the Skidmore Drug Company before opening up a new store on the growing east side of town.  In Portland, Herman took a different approach and got out of most of the extra lines of merchandise that he had sold in Condon – jewelry, phonographs and the like.  He did, however, add a soda fountain.

But business was slow.  Herman kept himself occupied by taking up German – Belle had been enrolled in classes at the local high school, and Herman thought it would be fun to join her as she learned.  It was also something to make him look busy when customers came in.

Herman likewise continued to encourage Linus’s growing curiosity by teaching him Latin to help supplement his budding interest in ancient civilizations.  In May 1910, Herman also wrote to the editor of The Oregonian asking for advice about books to provide for his nine-year old son’s new interests.  The editor responded by suggesting Plutarch, Herodotus, and Thomas Arnold’s The History of Rome.

Sadly, Herman did not have much time to follow up on the suggestions.  On June 11, while the rest of the family, along with Belle’s sisters, were at the Portland Rose Festival, Herman was back working when he started to get one of his stomach aches.  He went home and ate some of the roast that Belle had prepared for dinner which, as usual, helped to settle his stomach and allowed him to return to the store.

But the pain quickly returned and ferociously so. Herman collapsed and had to be carried home where he lay until his family arrived.  After seeing his wife, son and daughters one last time, Herman soon passed away, leaving Belle to care for their three young children.  He died at the age of 34, the victim of a perforated ulcer and attendant peritonitis.

The Life of Herman Pauling – Linus Pauling’s Father

Herman Pauling, ca. 1899.

Herman Pauling, ca. 1899.

(Part 1 of 2)

The son of German immigrants, Charles Henry “Carl” Pauling – Linus Pauling’s paternal grandfather – joined his father and brothers during the Civil War by enlisting in Company E of the 45th Regiment of the Missouri Volunteers.  After the war, Carl met Adelheit Blanken, who had come to Missouri with her family from Germany.  They settled in Concordia, Missouri, where they had four children: the youngest, Herman Henry William, was born in 1876.

The following year, the family traveled to Biggs, California where they settled in a predominately German community. It was here where Herman’s sister, Anne Charlotte, was born.  Herman and Anne would be the only two of Carl and Adelheit’s five children to survive into their twenties.

In 1882 the Paulings moved again, this time to Oswego, Oregon, near Portland.  Here Carl worked as an iron monger at the largest foundry west of the Rockies.  It was likewise in Oswego that Herman began to attend grammar school.  By the tenth grade, in 1890, he had grown tired of school and dropped out, talking his way into an apprenticeship with a local druggist instead.


Condon drug store, early 1900s.

Condon drug store, early 1900s.

In the late 19th century, medicine not well regulated, leaving the door open for basically anyone to come along and make whatever claims they wished concerning the efficacy of their products.  The druggist with whom Herman apprenticed taught him to avoid making wild statements and instead instilled in him the importance of the druggist’s responsibility to his customers. This professional ethic was closely bound to the practice of careful preparation of extracts, compounds, ointments, tinctures, oils and other products.  By his nineteenth birthday, after several years apprenticing, Herman felt confident enough to move to Portland, where he found work at one of the largest pharmacies in the city.

The pharmacy, Skidmore Drug Company, employed Herman as a traveling salesman, his purview being a one-hundred mile area ringing Portland; he covered his turf by horse and buggy.  After a financial depression hit the country in late 1893, Herman moved back to Oswego to run his own pharmacy.  The depression led to the closing of Oswego’s massive foundry, pushing many to leave town, including the doctors and other druggists.  Pretty soon Herman found that he was only person in town who could possibly care for the sick and his reputation quickly spread.  The town was grateful for his skills and his caring disposition – as instilled by his mentor – in addition to the low fees that he charged for his consultations.  If he was particularly concerned about them, Herman would commonly visit his patients well after their original appointment, making sure that their health had improved.

Herman’s reputation spread back to Portland as well, and investors there saw him as the perfect person to open up a drugstore in the small eastern Oregon town of Condon. By this time, regulations on drug sales had begun to increase, creating opportunities for those who were well-situated to meet the new standards and get in on the emerging market.


Herman Pauling, 1902.

Herman Pauling, 1902.

Upon first arriving in Condon in the summer of 1899, Herman was not impressed.  The town center consisted of six blocks along Main Street that ran right out into the desert and wheat farms. But by the fall, things began to look up.  Just as in Oswego, his good reputation quickly grew and he became the featured guest at several town functions.  The weekly newspaper, The Globe, described “Doctor” Pauling as “a registered, reliable and experienced druggist.”

He also began to attract the attention of some of the younger women in town.  Goldie Stephenson, the oldest daughter of one of the area’s wealthier families, invited Herman over to her house to meet her sister Belle.  The two immediately hit it off and soon could be seen talking to each other at many of the town’s community dinners and dances.  By Christmas, Herman had proposed to Belle and she immediately accepted.  Herman had business to attend to back in Portland soon after, and so had to be away from his fiancé for a brief time.   This gave him the opportunity to express his love in letters.  In a valentine that Herman wrote to Belle, he confided

Dear love, when life’s storms are raging fiercely I offer you my arms as your protection, and you can trust in their fond yet firm embrace.  When in after years the cares of home and motherhood bear upon your mind you shall find me ever an able assistant and benefactor.

Herman even wrote her a poem:

A maiden fair with jet black hair/ Her heart beats kind and true/ She confides in me her every care/ This maid with eyes light blue.

Herman and Belle married on May 27, 1900 at the Congregationalist Church in Condon.  (Herman was raised as a Lutheran, but was quite willing to adapt to Belle’s Congregationalist upbringing.)  Trouble struck quickly however as, only weeks after the wedding, the Portland investors that had backed Herman’s initial move to Condon pulled out of the venture, leaving Herman scrambling to look for a new job.  Herman had to settle for a clerk’s position at a pharmacy in Portland and the newlyweds found a small apartment near Chinatown.


The young father with his infant daughter, Pauline, and slightly older son, Linus. 1903.

The young father with his infant daughter, Pauline, and slightly older son, Linus. 1903.

Newly married, Herman worked as hard as he could to support his new bride. Meanwhile, the entertainment and shopping possibilities in Portland gave Belle new realms to explore that were unavailable in Condon.  Belle was also pregnant when they arrived in Portland; Linus Carl Pauling, Belle and Herman’s first child, was born at the end of February 1901.  Herman was thrilled to have a son and worked even harder to provide for his growing family.  But this left Belle alone much of the time to take care of Linus on her own.  Only nineteen years old, the young mother was still drawn to the possibilities of the city.  But her feeling of being stuck with the children continued to grow as Pauline was born in August 1902, and Lucile on New Year’s Day 1904.

When Herman was home, he would take Linus for walks around the neighborhood to try to wear out the energetic toddler.  The two wandered through the shops and Herman’s charismatic little boy drew the attention of neighborhood merchants who taught Linus to count to one-hundred in Chinese, a talent that garnered a measure of celebrity for the little boy as he displayed his counting skills for passersby.  Belle sometimes joined Herman and Linus on their walks, and the family often visited a nearby water fountain.

Herman continued to look for a better job and eventually found one in Salem as a traveling salesman for the jeweler and druggist D. J. Fry.  By October 1904, the family had moved into their new house in Salem.  For his job, Herman traveled up and down the Willamette Valley, sometimes seventy miles in one day, still using a horse and buggy.  With Herman away even more, Belle was left to care for the children in another new town, and she quickly made it known that she was not happy with their situation.  In his correspondence with his wife, Herman’s replies are directed at a better future; one where he would own his own drugstore and could provide Belle with more luxury than she had thus far known in their married life.

The Iron-Oxygen Bond in Oxyhemoglobin

Pastel drawing of the hemoglobin molecule by Roger Hayward, 1964.

Part of the beauty of studying the life and work of Linus Pauling is that doing so often affords the opportunity to look at how the science of today has developed from questions that were once unanswered and widely debated. One such question was how hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells, binds to and releases oxygen as it is inhaled and carried to the body’s tissues.

In 1959, Max Perutz used x-ray crystallography to obtain an image of oxyhemoglobin, a hemoglobin protein bound to an oxygen molecule. This was a major breakthrough in many ways. For one, it allowed chemists to observe an image of a three-dimensional protein found in humans for the first time. The imagery also provided tantalizing hints about the specific chemistry that might explain oxyhemoglobin’s structure.

Unfortunately, creating an image of the molecular structure didn’t solve everything, as Perutz himself would reflect in a 1978 article, “Hemoglobin Structure and Respiratory Transport.”

We were like explorers who have discovered a new continent, but it was not the end of the voyage, because our much-admired model did not reveal [hemoglobin's] inner workings.


The Joseph Weiss Medal, which commemorates his work as a radiation chemist.

The Joseph Weiss Medal, which commemorates his work as a radiation chemist.

Perutz’s work naturally incited biochemists to further explore the structure of hemoglobin. While it was known that the oxygen-carrying heme group in hemoglobin is composed of nitrogen, carbon, and an oxygen-binding iron, there was much debate over what kind of bond could cause the union and dissociation of these elements.

In 1964, Joseph Weiss, a professor at Newcastle University in England, attempted to answer the question of what specific bond forms between iron and oxygen. Weiss’s conclusions were published in a 1964 article, “Nature of the Iron–Oxygen Bond in Oxyhæmoglobin”.

According to Weiss, the iron in hemoglobin would need to be in the ferric state (iron with an ionic charge of +3) in order to account for hemoglobin’s behavior in oxygen transport.  He believed that ferric iron would also explain hemoglobin’s spectroscopy (the wavelengths of light reflected by a  molecule). Pauling, however, disagreed with Weiss.


Pauling, Max Delbruck and Max Perutz, 1976.

Interestingly, Pauling had been looking into the subject of the iron-oxygen bond in hemoglobin since 1948, when he presented a paper titled “The Electronic Structure of Hemoglobin” at a symposium in Cambridge, England. Pauling’s presentation considered advances in x-ray diffraction and quantum mechanics to propose a structure for the heme group in the protein. Unlike Weiss, Pauling believed that the iron-oxygen bond in oxyhemoglobin would require ferrous iron (an iron with an ionic charge of +2) to form a double bond (a bond involving two electrons) with oxygen as it was being transported throughout the body.  Weiss’s paper did little to change Pauling’s mind on the subject.

In 1964, Pauling wrote “Nature of the Iron–Oxygen Bond in Oxyhæmoglobin,” a direct response to Weiss’s article with the same title. In it, Pauling stated

I conclude that oxyhæmoglobin and related hæmoglobin compounds are properly described as  containing ferrous iron, rather than ferric iron, that their electronic structure involves essentially the formation of  a double bond between the iron atom and the near-by oxygen atom in  oxyhæmoglobin

Pauling’s interest in the components of blood had emerged early on in his career. In 1948 he suggested using hemoglobin to test his earlier ideas about bonds that had remained unexplored, as the structure of the protein had been hitherto not fully understood. This was a pursuit that he in which he strongly believed: in his Cambridge talk, “The Electronic Structure of Hemoglobin,” he had concluded that

even the great amount of work that would be needed for a complete determination of [hemoglobin's] structure, involving the location of each of the thousands of atoms in its molecule, would be justified.

Many years later, in his 1992 article “The Significance of the Hydrogen Bond,” Max Perutz stated that that Pauling’s words, as published in 1949, were among the inspirations propelling his own work a decade later.


“The Electronic Structure of Hemoglobin” wasn’t the only publication by Pauling that inspired Perutz. In 1970, he used Pauling’s “The Magnetic Properties and Structure of Hemoglobin” to further his own study of the structure of hemoglobin, work which finally led to the discovery that the iron-oxygen binding in hemoglobin depends on the electronic spin transition of the iron atom.

Essentially, Perutz found that when the ferrous iron in hemoglobin is in a low spin state, its higher d-orbitals are unoccupied by electrons, which allows oxygen to form a bond with iron. In a high spin state, the electrons in ferrous iron are occupying all d-orbitals in the atom and oxygen remains unbound.

This suggests that the more likely structure for hemoglobin involves a single bond between iron and the oxygen molecule, not the double bond that Pauling had proposed in 1948 and again in 1964.  But Pauling was correct with respect to the presence of ferrous iron in the compound, and he had been able to make this determination before any crystallographic pictures were available to him.

 

The Bellingham Suit

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From the years 1960 to 1968, Linus Pauling either threatened or actually instigated several libel suits against various newspapers and media outlets throughout the country, demanding retractions and financial compensation for defamatory statements issued about him. The damaging statements usually stemmed from Pauling’s hearings before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in 1960, during which the inquisitors grilled Pauling about his activities in the peace movement, especially his 1958 nuclear bomb test petition, and repeatedly implied that he was a communist sympathizer.

Pauling was not a communist and, in fact, had led a large research effort on behalf of the U.S. war effort during World War II, work for which he earned several commendations, including the Presidential Medal for Merit. So naturally, Pauling was very frustrated when newspapers around the country began to question his loyalty to the US, and he became increasingly alarmed as his reputation was attacked amidst the heightened tensions of the Cold War era.

One of the first newspapers to provoke legal action from Pauling was the Bellingham, [Washington] Herald. In late November and early December 1960, shortly before and after Pauling gave a talk at Western Washington College, the paper published five letters to the editor attacking Pauling. The letters contained factually incorrect information, such as the suggestion that Pauling had appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (rather than the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee) and that he was a communist. The letters also accused him of other communist-related activity that had never been proven by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee.

In early December, Pauling wrote to the newspaper demanding a retraction of the letters that it had published. The Herald responded quickly, printing a note explaining that they were “unable to substantiate the claims” of one letter published on December 2nd by Martin Gegnor.  That stated, the editors ended their note by declaring that “it is the policy of this newspaper to give free expression to our readers.” They likewise noted that the Herald, in its December 2nd issue, had also printed a long letter from the wife of the president of Western Washington College extolling Pauling’s scientific achievements.

Pauling was not satisfied with the Herald’s response and wrote a second letter to the paper that was published on December 20th. This letter went to great pains to point out how each defamatory statement issued about him was untrue. Although the Herald published Pauling’s letter, they did so while emphasizing that it was his viewpoint and that the paper did not explicitly apologize for its previous actions. This upset Pauling, who suspected that Martin Gegnor was not actually an ordinary resident of Bellingham, Washington but was instead a pen name for another author, possibly a journalist at the newspaper. (A suspicion that was, many years later, proven correct.)


ubc-students-lp

Pauling decided to sue the Bellingham Publishing Company and the letter writers for libel. He later dropped his case against the individuals and decided to focus entirely on the newspaper, which he sued for $500,000. Pauling complained that the allegations in the letters were untrue and that he had no communist tendencies. He also claimed that damages to his reputation might result in the loss of royalties from his three textbooks, which amounted at the time to about $40,000 per year.

In December 1961, the judge overseeing the suit ordered Pauling to release the names of the people who had helped to circulate his nuclear bomb test petition. This very information had been requested of Pauling by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in the summer of 1960. Rising contempt of Congress, Pauling had refused to turn it over, fearing that the reputations of his associates would be smeared once their names came to light. This time around, Pauling looked to his Seattle-based lawyer, Francis Hoague, for advice. Hoague replied

It seems to me that you face a dilemma. On one hand, if you dismiss your action against the Bellingham Publishing Company the same ploy will be used in all three remaining libel actions [since instigated by Pauling]. Furthermore, this successful defense to this libel action might lay you open to a rash of defamation, since the defamers would know that they had a defense to any suit brought by you. Also, your dropping of this action, and I assume of the other three actions, would be used by certain columnists to indicate your admission of the truth of the accusations.

Pauling decided to disclose the names of his fellow petitioners, in spite of his desire to protect them from potential federal investigation. The list totaled about 650 names, including approximately 450 Americans.

petition-submitters

Page 1 of Pauling’s list of those who helped to circulate the bomb test petition.


In January 1962, before the case came to trial, Pauling offered the Bellingham Publishing Company a settlement: $75,000 in damages plus a retraction. After negotiating for four months, the parties agreed to a penalty of $16,000 plus a retraction. The settlement was likely close to what Pauling would have received through the full prosecution of a successful suit. The outcome also allowed him to spend less in legal fees, and was hoped to deter other news sources from libelous actions of a similar nature.

The Bellingham Herald published its retraction in May 1962, writing

In late November and early December, 1960…this paper published in its Letters to the Editor column five letters in which the writers attacked Dr. Pauling. These letters contained untrue statements which, if believed, would have reflected on Dr. Pauling’s integrity and loyalty to the United States of America. These defamatory letters were published in error in reliance upon the writers, without investigation by the paper. The Herald takes this opportunity to state publicly that it regrets that it published these statements reflecting on the integrity and loyalty of Dr. Pauling.

Three years later, in April 1965, Francis Hoague, Pauling’s Bellingham case lawyer, wrote a letter to him noting the impact that the suit had made in the community. In his observation

Up until the time when you sued the Bellingham Herald, the John Birch Society had a firm grip on city and school affairs in Bellingham and virtually no one dared to challenge them…Your suit was the turning point in this matter, and since then the John Birch Society has had relatively little influence and can be quickly and effectively challenged when necessary. Even the Bellingham Herald has shown a change of heart in liberal matters…so your efforts in that respect were not in vain.

Thirteen years after that, Pauling engaged in a conversation that makes for a compelling coda to the Bellingham story.  In a note to self dated February 27, 1978, he wrote

Mrs. Helen Mazur talked to me today. Her husband is Professor of Demography in Western Washington University, Bellingham….

She and her husband arrived at Bellingham just at the time that I came to give the Commencement lecture.  We learned when we arrived there that some derogatory material had appeared in the Bellingham Herald. I sued, and the case was settled out of court with payment of $15,000 [sic] to me.

Mrs. Mazur said that when she arrived in Bellingham just at that time she met the president of the local bank. For some reason that she does not understand he began talking to her about me, and said that he had gone to the editor of the newspaper to suggest that something be done. She says that he said that he and the editor had written a letter attacking me, which was then published in the Bellingham Herald. It was this letter, with a false name and address, that was the basis of my suit. She also said that the newspaper borrowed the $15,000 from the banker’s bank in order to make the payment to me. I had not known that the newspaper editor and the banker had conspired to write this letter.

 

Pauling and Pritikin Duke It Out Over Vitamin C

Interview Letter

Letter to Pauling from Steve Hewitt, August 1979.

Dear Dr. Pauling. Several weeks ago, the Oregonian published an interview with Nathan Pritikin. In it, Mr. Pritikin referred to two studies purporting to show adverse effects from taking vitamin C…. 

In this letter from August 1979, a concerned follower of the nutrition advice given in Linus Pauling’s then recently published book, Vitamin C, the Common Cold, and the Flu­­, confesses that, while he is following the book’s advice and is megadosing on more than a gram of vitamin C supplements every day, he is concerned about adverse effects that might arise from the practice. What, he asks, does Dr. Pauling know of a collection of studies referenced by a Dr. Pritikin and reported on in the Oregonian? Has Dr. Pauling changed his mind about vitamin C?

Pauling replies to the man with his usual clarity:

…You ask about several statements made by Mr. Pritikin. I may say that these statements are just wrong. The reason probably is that Mr. Pritikin is ignorant about vitamins.


Nathan Pritikin

Nathan Pritikin

Nathan Pritikin was a dietician who, in the 1970s, found himself in competition with Linus Pauling for the health of America.  An inventor involved in various scientific fields including chemistry, Pritikin was 40 years old when, in 1955, he was diagnosed with cardiac disease. Though a slender and fit-looking man, Pritikin’s cholesterol and blood pressure were through the roof. His doctors prescribed a series of medications and told him to rest up so as not to strain his heart.

Rather than following this advice, Pritikin began to read. Studying cultures both past and present from around the world, he concluded that heart disease (along with a variety of other degenerative diseases prevalent in the U.S.) could be fought, so long as one was armed with a proper diet and exercise program. Pritikin’s concept of a proper diet was one still followed by many today: low fat, low cholesterol, low sugar, plenty of complex carbohydrates and all the leafy greens and fresh fruit you could eat. The exercise regimen is also familiar: a moderate plan of preferably at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity per day.

For Pritikin, the diet and exercise worked. Within months his cholesterol was lower and he felt better; within a few years, his cardiac disease was a thing of the past. Equipped with the drive and instincts of a veteran inventor, Pritikin next did what came naturally – he invented a new diet and exercise plan for America and he took it to market. Starting with his “Pritikin Longevity Centers,” meant for those who suffered from degenerative diseases, and later moving to the written word, Pritikin became one of the health gurus of the 1970s and 80s, establishing himself alongside such names as Robert Atkins and Herman Tarnower, creators of the Atkins Diet and the Scarsdale Diet, respectively.

This was a space also occupied, of course, by Dr. Linus Pauling.


Pauling note to self, June 22, 1978.

Pauling note to self, June 22, 1978.

Pauling had noticed Pritikin well before he received the letter detailing the Oregonian interview. In a letter from 1977 to Dr. Miles Robinson, a mutual friend of both Pauling and Pritikin, Pauling noted his awareness of Pritikin, his only criticism of the man and his health advice being that Pritikin “neglects his vitamins.” This is about as kind as Pauling would ever treat Pritikin in his correspondence.

The following year, it became apparent to Pauling that Pritikin was not only neglecting supplemental vitamins, but had begun to speak out against them, in particular vitamin C. During a lecture given in early 1978, Pritikin implied that high doses of vitamin C could inhibit certain actions of the body’s immune system, potentially making a person more ill. After composing a memo to himself on the subject, Pauling wrote to Pritikin, telling him that several people had been made upset by his attack on supplementary vitamin C and had written to Pauling about the lecture. Pauling had just completed a paper claiming the exact opposite, complete with 386 references, and he pointed out in no uncertain terms that Pritikin was obviously incorrect in his statements.

In his reply to Pauling’s letter, Pritikin did not bow to the pressure. Rather, he went on the offensive, accusing Pauling of promoting a diet high in fat and cholesterol, ignoring any connections that these habits might have to the development of atherosclerosis. “The public,” he said in his letter, “is led to believe that this type of diet is perfectly acceptable as long as high doses of vitamin C are ingested.”

In the letter, Pritikin also included a statement and a quote that he would repeat over and over in his books, interviews, lectures and letters.  First, that humans had no need of supplements so long as they ate a diet that included vegetables and fruit. And second, according to D.L. Cooper, a doctor cited as serving on the 1972 Olympics medical board, “Americans excrete the most expensive urine in the world because it is loaded with so many vitamins,” a result of all the supplements that they ingest. Pauling answered the attack, naturally, writing that Pritikin’s referenced studies were wrong, and that the quote about excreted vitamins, specifically vitamin C, was also fictitious.

Letter from Pauling to Pritikin, August 1, 1978.

Letter from Pauling to Pritikin, August 1, 1978.


From his correspondence, we can ascertain that Pauling’s next interaction with Pritikin concerned the interview mentioned above in Northwest magazine, a Sunday insert in Portland’s Oregonian newspaper. In the interview, Pritikin was extremely derisive in his comments on vitamin C, even more so than at the lecture from the year prior. A few highlights:

Well, it’s completely wrong to take [vitamins]…For example, the most vitamin C you can hold in your body is about 20 or 25 milligrams a day. Anything over that just goes out through your urine….

If a woman is pregnant and is ready to deliver a child and she is on high vitamin C, both the mother and the child are set up to destroy vitamin C because the body can’t stand it. Now the child is born, but is not taking any new vitamin C, but the mechanism for destroying it continues for probably 10 to 15 days after you stop taking it, so on the fourth day the child goes into scurvy because its body is destroying vitamin C, but no new vitamins are coming in. Many cases are reported like that.

And, the most inflammatory, at least in the eyes of Pauling:

The bacteria count rises 100 times higher when you are on high vitamin C doses.

Thus, the more vitamin C you take, “the longer you’re going to be sick.” Reminded by the interviewer that this view was in direct opposition to Pauling’s stance, Pritikin retorted, “Well, he can make a statement, but this is what the study shows.”

Excerpt from Pritikin's interview in Northwest magazine.

Excerpt from Pritikin’s interview in Northwest magazine, 1979.

Though Pritikin called Pauling out by name in the interview, Pauling didn’t reply to the salvo, at least not directly. In addition to calling Pritikin ignorant of vitamins in his reply to his follower, he ended his letter with, “I think it is quite wrong for Mr. Pritikin to talk about vitamins when he knows so little about the matter.” He also sent a copy of his response to Nathan Pritikin.

More exchanges occurred from there, including an one in which Pritikin, as reported to Pauling by a correspondent, quoted Art Robinson – who was suing the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine at the time – in saying that Pauling was sitting on evidence that vitamin C had the potential to cause and aggravate cancer. To that concerned reader, Pauling sent a copy of a letter that he had written to the editor of The Stanford Daily that listed all his reasons why Art Robinson was wrong.

Pritikin’s final attack on Pauling’s position came during a radio interview conducted on KGO-San Francisco’s Owen Spann talk show in October 1983. Pritikin appeared on the show to promote his newest book, The Pritikin Promise: 28 Days to a Longer, Healthier Life, and to clarify some of the diet advice presented within.

After asking his guest a few questions about the recent history of American heart disease, Spann launched into a discussion on vitamin C. And Pritikin, once again, turned to a study, saying “[Stanford University] got so sick of hearing Dr. Pauling say that vitamin C cleans out your arteries that they decided to see if it even does.” From there he described the study, stating that Stanford found that vitamin C raised LDL (bad cholesterol), while lowering HDL (good cholesterol). He finished with this bold statement: “If you want heart disease, take vitamin C.”

Upon hearing a recording of the interview, Pauling went in search of the Stanford study. Pauling’s notes documenting his search suggest that Pritikin was lying.

I telephoned Dr. Donald C. Harrison, professor of medicine and head of the cardiology department at Stanford. He says that he knows nothing about the study Mr. Pritiken [sic] said was made at Stanford, and so far as he knows Stanford has made no study of vitamin C in relation to heart disease.

Pauling note to self, October 31, 1983.

Pauling note to self, October 31, 1983.

The disagreement between Pauling and Pritikin ended with the Spann interview. Though no longer suffering from cardiac disease, Nathan Pritkin had battled leukemia for most of the 1980s. In February 1985, he took his own life. He was 70 years old.

A Theory of the Color of Dyes

Image credit: Kanwal Jahan.

Image credit: Kanwal Jahan.

Colors convey ideas and emotions in such fundamental ways that being able to capture and use them has been an important component of both cultural and scientific development. The colors of the natural world have fascinated people throughout human history and unending attempts have been made to manipulate and apply color to the items that we use on a daily basis.

Linus Pauling was not immune to humankind’s curiosity for color and as a chemist he was intrigued by dye molecules. Seventy five years ago, in 1939, he attempted to deepen the scientific understanding of how these molecules reflect color.

By the late 1930s, chemists had become comfortable with the concept of electronic resonance – the ability of electrons in a molecule to change orbitals – and were using it to describe a molecule’s capacity to absorb and emit radiation in the reflection of color. Atoms and molecules possess electromagnetic radiation due to the charge of their electrons, and as light hits an atom or a molecule its radiation determines which wavelengths of light are absorbed and which are emitted. When a molecule resonates, the movement of electrons causes a shift in the charges within the molecule which affects its radiation and the distribution of its atoms. All of these processes impact the molecule’s absorption-emission spectra.

By the time that Linus Pauling began working with dyes he had already contributed greatly to the theory of resonance. In 1928, while looking at a series of proposed forms for resonating molecules, he realized that the likelihood that these molecules would resonate directly from one form to another was very low. While many of the resonance forms that had been proposed explained the chemical behavior of molecules, Pauling felt that something was missing in the contemporary understanding of resonance. In his 1928 paper, “The shared-electron chemical bond,” he proposed that the shifts in charge observed in larger molecules required intermediate resonance forms. Pauling then described how these shifts in charge occured from one atom to the next, in the process altering the molecule’s geometry. This idea ran contrary to the notion that electrons shifted directly from one side of the molecule to its opposite.

In 1939 Pauling applied these ideas to the molecules that make up dyes. Dye molecules are often large organic compounds highly affected by resonance. This fact was known to chemists at the time, yet Pauling disagreed with accepted ideas on how these compounds resonate and reflect color. To Pauling, it seemed unlikely that molecules the size and structure of, for example, benzaurin and indigo would resonate in such direct ways as was being proposed by his colleagues.

Although the dramatic changes in charge and structure that had been proposed did account for the colors reflected by dye molecules, Pauling had developed a different understanding of how they came about. Instead of electrons resonating and causing a shift in charge directly from one side of the molecule to the other, Pauling suggested that the shift occurred from atom to atom, giving rise to intermediate forms. Pauling believed that it was necessary to take into account all possible resonance forms in order to fully understand a dye’s emission spectrum.

Some of the multiple resonance forms proposed by Pauling for Döbner's violet. 1939.

Some of the multiple resonance forms proposed by Pauling for Döbner’s violet. 1939.

Pauling’s thinking was published in a 1939 article, “A theory of the color of dyes,” which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The article verifies the notion that color depends on the frequencies of radiation generated by the electrons in a molecule. But it also suggests that in order to understand their molecular structure and explain the colors that these molecules reflect, it is necessary to consider all possible distributions of a molecule’s charges, a combination of which would more accurately describe the observed reflection of color. Scientists now agree that understanding absorption-emission spectra is key in describing molecules because they offer valuable information about a molecule’s components and charges; Pauling’s dye work was a contribution to the development of this understanding.

At the time that Pauling’s theory of dyes paper was published, there were chemists across the country simultaneously trying to understand the color phenomenon. Dr. A. Burawoy’s 1940 article “Light Absorption, Resonance, and Isomerism” (Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry) used Pauling’s 1928 shared electron bond paper in developing his own study of dyes. Not surprisingly, Pauling and Burawoy reached similar conclusions about color.

Crellin Pauling and a friend peer out from a railroad car in an early color image from the Pauling Papers. Image digitized from a Kodachrome slide original.

Crellin Pauling and a friend peer out from a railroad car in an early color image from the Pauling Papers. Image digitized from a Kodachrome slide original.

Other chemists, including L.G.S. Brooker, would contribute to Pauling’s theory of dyes by questioning and expanding upon his work. Brooker was a chemist working for the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York. The company was naturally interested in producing higher-quality photographic film and, as such, was keen to investigate and understand the chemistry of dyes. Brooker and Pauling exchanged ideas as they studied dyes, and correspondence from December 1937 suggests that the two met in Rochester the following month to discuss their results. When Pauling’s theory of color was published in September 1939, Brooker wrote to issue a disagreement with Pauling’s treatment of carbon molecules. Specifically, Brooker believed that Pauling was overlooking the possible effects of carbon on a molecule’s behavior, though he otherwise agreed with Pauling’s conclusions on radiation and charge migration.

Observations like Brooker’s encouraged Pauling to continue his study of dyes by testing his theory on different molecules, including synthetic dyes like cyanine, which he investigated in 1940. The application of Pauling’s findings on carotenoids, one of the pigments found in tomatoes, was further expanded in a 1941 article published by Laszlo Zechmeister, Pauling and two other Caltech colleagues and titled, “Prolycopene, a naturally occurring stereoisomer of lycopene.” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science)  Two years later, Zechmeister, Pauling and three others authored “Spectral characteristics and configuration of some stereoisomeric carotenoids including prolycopene and pro-gamma-carotene.” (Journal of the American Chemical Society)  Both publications explored the role of molecular structure in determining the emission spectra of naturally occurring pigments.

The contemporary understanding of how dye molecules reflect color has changed little since Pauling’s 1939 findings. His work, and that of many others scientists, confirms that something as simple as the color of a tomato is the result of a continuing cycle of complex interactions between atoms and their electrons.

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