A Christmas Memory

Linus Pauling, Jr.'s first Christmas, 1925.

Linus Pauling, Jr.’s first Christmas, 1925.

[Recollections on Christmas in the Pauling household, as compiled from an oral history interview with Linus Pauling, Jr., June 2012.]

[As an undergraduate] at Pomona…I was serving dinners to some of my classmates, these big trays loaded with plates. They were prepared in the kitchen and carried out and distributed around. So I was pretty good at that.

Anyway, in the dining hall – which was the famous Frary Dining Hall at Pomona which has a huge Roscoe painting of Prometheus which is famous in art circles – the dining room brought in a beautiful Christmas tree about twenty feet high with delicate pine cones on the branches.

A few days before Christmas, the college emptied out of course, everybody went home. Since I was a member of the dining room staff, I said ‘what’s going to happen to the tree?’ ‘We’re gonna throw it out into the dumpster.’ So I said, ‘Can I have it?’ ‘Sure.’

So my ’32 Ford Roadster had a windshield that would fold down flat against the hood. I drove up to the dining room, got the tree, laid it out across the car – and you know it was longer than the car was – and beside me in the passenger side with the windshield down, drove back to Pasadena with this tree on my car and set it up in the living room in the Fairpoint Street house.

The living room there had ceilings that were about twelve feet high which was pretty good, but not quite good enough for this tree. I had to chop off some of the top and some of the bottom to get it to fit, but it was probably the most magnificent tree they ever had in there.

The traditional Christmas was that, when I was a kid, the household would go on absolutely normally through Christmas Eve with no sign of any particular holiday spirit. Then somehow, on Christmas morning, I’d wake up and here was the tree fully decorated with the lights and presents and so on. I wondered how this happened. Finally, when I was six or seven, I got old enough to realize that somebody had done all this and then I became party to the adventure.

It turned out that on Christmas Eve, my father would go out late in the evening. By then, all of the itinerant Christmas tree salesmen had left, leaving their leftover trees in the lot to be thrown out. So we’d roam around Pasadena looking at all of these trees in these now-deserted lots and find one we liked, take it, put it on the car, and drive home.

Then there’d be frantic activity through the night to put on the lights and the decorations, the ornaments, and bring out the presents for the younger siblings to wake up and be amazed at. So the same thing, I presume, happened to them to the right level.

All that came to a halt finally, probably with Crellin being old enough. That was really exciting and one of the fun parts of Christmas. I never followed that with my own children. Christmas got going early and they were exposed to it for a longer time.

The tree stayed up until after New Years. It was too nice, too beautiful, to think about taking down right away.

Christmas morning, 1980.

Christmas morning, 1980.

This is our last post for 2014 – see you in January!

Mervyn Stephenson: Builder of Bridges

Mervyn Stephenson, ca. 1920s.

Mervyn Stephenson, ca. 1920s.

[Part 2 of our examination of the life of Mervyn Stephenson, Linus Pauling’s cousin.]

Having completed his schooling in 1919, Mervyn Stephenson was quickly hired by Conde B. McCullough, a former college professor known today as Oregon’s most famous bridge engineer. Excited to begin his career, Stephenson moved to southern Oregon shortly after graduation to work as a civil engineer for the Bridge Division of the Oregon Department of Transportation. The first project that he worked on was in Douglas County, but the project was shut down so he returned to Salem to delve into bridge design. Mervyn worked hard, but he still found time for fun and was especially keen on dancing: he attended dance halls on the weekends and saved several of his dance cards to prove it.

At work, Mervyn wasn’t stuck behind a desk for long. One of his first major projects was the building of a concrete arch bridge over Hog Canyon in 1920. In 1921 he worked on the Crooked River Bridge in Prineville, as well as the dam for the Prineville Reservoir, and the Bear Creek Bridge. A year later he assisted with repairing the John Day Highway. It was here that he helped to rehabilitate a stone building that had been the headquarters of a Chinese doctor, Kam Wah Chung, a structure that was transformed into a museum many years later.

The Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum, Grant County, Oregon.

The Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum, Grant County, Oregon.

As time passed and his skills became more widely known, Mervyn was offered a job in highway construction in Cuba, but he turned it down, preferring to stay close to home. The Federal Bureau of Public Roads also offered him a job in 1933, but he did not accept, choosing to stay with Conde McCullough instead. In the years that followed, he was a member of the teams that designed and built several of the iconic structures now closely associated with McCullough. These included the Coos Bay Bridge, Rogue River Bridge, Siuslaw River Bridge, Yaquina Bay Bridge, John Day Bridge and other coastal bridges.  In an interview published in the January 17, 1934 Marshfield/Coos Bay Times, titled “Bridge Program Hailed as Major Step in Progress,” Stephenson lent insight into what it was like to work for the famed engineer.

We used to have a lot of fun. [McCullough would] come to look at what you were doing. [He’d] look over your desk and see what you were designing and he’d always reach over and get your pencil and start scribbling, stick [the pencil] in his pocket and walk off. So after we got to know him better, as he’d start to move, we’d reach over and grab [the pencil] out of his pocket, never said anything, just reach over and grab it out of his pocket.

Conde McCullough, ca. 1920s.

Conde McCullough, ca. 1920s.


The Second World War was a source of new opportunities for Stephenson. In 1945 the U.S. Army contacted him asking him to do some highly secretive work overseas in support of the war effort. Stephenson traveled to Washington D.C. for a briefing and then was flown to the Hickam Field base near Honolulu. As Stephenson soon learned, the Army had sought out and gathered civilian scientists and engineers to help plan the U.S. invasion of Japan, and Stephenson was one of the experts called in to assist. As such, he was instated as a colonel and assigned a high pay grade because of his specialized skill set.

While at Hickam Field, Mervyn studied maps and aerial photos, analyzing the roads and bridges that might be encountered in the planned invasion. He also helped to estimate the amount of raw material needed to build bridges and highways as U.S. forces moved across Japan. This work never came to fruition, due to the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.

Still of use to the Army, Stephenson was transferred to a unit working on the Philippines Highway Planning Mission and charged with rehabilitating the country’s highway system. For a while he moved with his unit through Japan and the Philippines, inspecting tunnels and bridges. Once this mission was completed, he returned to civilian life as an Assistant Bridge Engineer with the Oregon State Highway Department.


P.M. Stephenson and Linus Pauling at a Darling family reunion, 1983.

P.M. Stephenson and Linus Pauling at a Darling family reunion, 1983.

From 1955 to 1957, Stephenson was the Oregon State Bridge Engineer. Most of the bridge projects that he oversaw, including Winchester Bridge and the Fords Bridge, resided on I-5, the west coast’s main interstate highway. Probably the most important project that Stephenson supervised was the design and construction preparation for significant upgrades to the Columbia River Interstate Bridge, linking Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington.  He retired from employment with the Oregon State Highway Department in 1957, but was soon appointed, by the governor, to the State Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.

After his retirement, Stephenson and his wife traveled extensively, their favorite destination being Mexico, which they visited several times during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1972 Linus Pauling sent his cousin a letter, asking about the arrowhead collection that Mervyn had inherited from their grandfather Darling. He also took the opportunity to provide Stephenson with an update on his life and burgeoning interest in Vitamin C, and asked that Mervyn and his wife visit him and Ava Helen in California on their next trip to Mexico. This letter is the final record of written contact between Pauling and Stephenson, though we know from photographs that the two saw one another at least one more time, at a Darling family reunion held not long before Mervyn died.

Philip Mervyn Stephenson passed away in Salem, Oregon in 1983. His undated autobiographical manuscript ends with various accounts of his travels in retirement. The piece makes little mention of Linus Pauling, save for the memories that the two shared in their childhood and college years.  Though we can’t know for sure, it is likely that the two young boys who held much in common as they hunted for small critters, searched for arrowheads and caused mischief in their fathers’ stores, gradually grew in separate directions as they pursued their passions and careers with tenacity.

Cousin Merv

Mervyn Stephenson with his three sisters, Condon, Oregon, ca. early 1900s.

Mervyn Stephenson with his three sisters, Condon, Oregon, ca. early 1900s.

[Ed. Note: The Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections & Archives Research Center (SCARC) is, of course, home to the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, a collection of some 4,400 linear feet held in 2,230 archival boxes.  Also included among the 1,100 collections held in SCARC is the Mervyn Stephenson Collection, which consists of eight file folders. Stephenson was Linus Pauling’s older cousin and was an important early influence in Pauling’s life. We spend a lot of time sifting through the Pauling Papers as we prepare these posts, but we thought it might be fun to engage with MSS Stephenson for a short while and learn a bit more about a man who, in some respects, served as a kind of surrogate big brother for Linus Pauling.]

Part 1 of 2

If he’s lucky, every young boy has his partner when he plays ‘Cowboys and Indians,’ or when he roams the streets getting into mischief. For Linus Pauling, his cohort in crime was his older cousin, Philip Mervyn Stephenson, also referred to as Merv but who also liked to be called Steve. He was born on March 23, 1898 in Condon, Oregon to a Condon native, Goldie Victoria Darling Stephenson, who married an English immigrant, Philip Herbert Stephenson.

Mervyn was about three years older than Linus, but when they were young school boys, the gap made no difference. The Paulings lived in Condon, off and on, until they moved to Portland for good when Linus was eight years old, and it was in Condon that Pauling and Stephenson spent the most time together. As they wandered the town together and explored its hills and gullies, they hunted rabbits, swam in streams, collected arrowheads and, in the winter, took sleigh rides. In later years, Pauling also recalled watching with his cousin as the area’s wheat was being harvested and bringing water to the farmhands.

Sometimes Mervyn’s father asked him to mind the store that he owned. Stephenson and Pauling looked forward to these occasions because these were times where they could sneak sweet treats and other good things to eat. Being left alone to watch the store also led to a few hilarious run-ins. One day the chewing tobacco was left out. The boys decided to try a small piece, probably swallowed a bit, and both got sick. Needless to say, neither of the boys’ fathers were pleased.

Another time, Pauling was asked by his father to watch the family pharmacy. Stephenson, of course, joined and the two decided to try the port wine—it was used for several prescriptions that Herman Pauling wrote. The boys tried a bit of wine, soon became drowsy, and fell asleep in the back of the store. The two got in trouble, once again, and that was the last of their major stunts. By 1909, after the Paulings moved to Portland, time spent with Mervyn never held the same childhood aura or imagination.


Mervyn and Linus at Kiger Island, 1918.

Mervyn and Linus at Kiger Island, 1918.

The Stephensons bought a family car in 1912 and, at the age of 14, young Mervyn immediately learned to drive. People in town called him a fast driver, and his father had only to call the local store or neighbor to see where his son had gone, because Stephenson would have most likely zipped by in the new car. Stephenson would also frequently hike down a nearby canyon with other kids from Condon and was a big fan of the regional county fairs. He was an adventurous young man and went on numerous excursions, including following local legends in search of a secret lake in the woods.

As he grew up, Mervyn’s parents thought him to be too thin and “understrength” for his own good. To combat this, they would send him, sometimes for a month at a time, to Charles and Nell Underwood’s house, where they would feed him well and work him hard in hopes that he might gain weight and muscle. It was here that Stephenson collected many arrowheads for his collection.

Mervyn was also becoming an upstanding citizen. He was, for one, the lead organizer of the athletic boys club of Condon until he left for college. More importantly, in 1912, (the same year that the family bought their car) he was marked as a town hero for being the first on the scene of a fire in a hotel. Mervyn had heard the siren in the middle of the night, rushed over to the fire station, and then hurried to the hotel to help. The town awarded him with a prize of one dollar for acting promptly and courageously.

Around the time of Mervyn’s graduation from Condon High School in 1915, Professor Gordon Skelton of Oregon Agricultural College (OAC) came to town to recruit students. He met Stephenson and they talked about what he might want to study should he attend OAC. After their conversation, Skelton had convinced Stephenson to give Corvallis a try and to major to civil engineering. Mervyn visited the Paulings on his way to OAC, and he talked with young Linus, at the time fourteen years old, about his plans to study highway engineering. The two also discussed other programs available at OAC and from this conversation Pauling learned that the college offered chemical engineering, which he believed to be the profession that chemists pursued.


Mervyn Stephenson (far right) with OAC classmates, 1917.

Mervyn Stephenson (far right) with OAC classmates, 1917.

Mervyn worked very hard as a freshman. Room and board ran to about twenty dollars a month, and he found a campus job that paid twenty cents an hour. He made it through his first year working full time with a full class schedule. During summer break, he was hired by the county to work on road construction, and that helped to make ends meet.

Stephenson concentrated on his ROTC training during in his second year at OAC; he moved up as a cadet captain and continued to progress forward. This year was also exceptionally tough because, midway through, his parents were divorced. His sister and mother then moved to Portland. That summer he worked on his first bridge, and as the break came to a close he was offered a job to continue to work on bridges. In order to take the job he would have to take a year off college. He would be paid a fair sum, but following the advice of his father, he decided to finish school and then pursue a career.

The United States was in the middle of World War I through Stephenson’s third year at college. As such, Stephenson transferred from the ROTC to the SATC (Students Army Training Corps) to receive training for combat, if needed. This same year, Linus Pauling, though only sixteen years old, began his studies at OAC. The only reason why Pauling’s mother, Belle, allowed him to go to college at such a young age was because she knew that Mervyn would be there for him.

Little did she know that no college junior wanted to spend his time watching over a sixteen-year-old freshman. According to Pauling’s recollection, soon after Belle left to return to Portland, Stephenson gave Pauling some advice about being in college, and then left him to fend for himself in the boarding house where they were supposed to be living together. Pauling did not stay past the first year in the boarding house, due to the cost of rent, and he did not see much of his cousin while in college.

In Stephenson’s handwritten memoir, titled P.M. Stephenson’s Life Stories, he recalled living with Pauling the entire first year and never mentions leaving Pauling behind. On the contrary, the manuscript focuses mostly on Pauling’s brilliance, describing a young man who would finish assignments quickly and then immediately find something more to teach himself. We learn from the memoir that one of the scholarly hobbies that Pauling picked up as an undergrad was teaching himself Greek. Stephenson was impressed, but being a more veteran college student, he spent ample time studying and his free moments socializing. Perhaps it was these diverging interests that led the two cousins to spend so little time together.


Mervyn Stephenson, training at the Presidio, summer 1918.

Mervyn Stephenson, training at the Presidio, summer 1918.

The two young men were very much together in the summer of 1918 when they left for San Francisco for intensive officer training at the Presidio military base. Stephenson recalled Pauling as having been a strong supporter of the war effort while at the camp. With the completion of his officer training, Stephenson was promoted to the rank of cadet major. He was then one of ten men at OAC to receive recommendation for commission as second lieutenant in the Officer’s Reserve Corps. That summer the cousins also worked together when they stayed in Tillamook, on the Oregon coast, with Stephenson’s mother. The two worked in a shipyard for the summer, building wooden-hulled freighters and taking small holidays in their off hours to go with Stephenson’s mother and sister to the resort town of Bayocean.

Stephenson’s senior year looked as if it would begin with a move overseas to serve in the war. Mervyn had received his second lieutenant commission and was notified that he would report to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, but his orders were never received because the war ended on November 11 of that year. He finished his senior year in due course, graduating from OAC’s College of Engineering, and was granted membership in the Zeta chapter of the Sigma Tau engineering honorary society. Mervyn and Linus then parted ways as Pauling continued his studies and Stephenson moved forward in his career as a bridge builder all across Oregon.

Post 500

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling.  Angeles National Forest, Thanksgiving Day, 1952.

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling. Angeles National Forest, Thanksgiving Day, 1952.

This is the five-hundredth post that we’ve published on the Pauling Blog, and in this season of thanksgiving we find ourselves in a grateful mood.  Five-hundred posts, surely at least a half-million words and, recently, our 500,000th view.  Great thanks to you, our readers, who continue to seek out and use this resource in steadily increasing measure.

To celebrate this milestone, we are publishing a few excerpts from one of our favorite Pauling manuscripts.  Titled “An Extraordinary Life: An Autobiographical Ramble,” the piece was written by Pauling for presentation to the Institute for the Humanities in Saledo, Texas, April 1989.  The text finds Pauling in an unusually reflective mood, speaking with serenity, at age 88, of a life spent dipping in and out of scientific disciplines in a most remarkable way.


Young Pauling, ca. 1910s.

Young Pauling, ca. 1910s.

[…] I am moderately smart. I estimate that there are 20,000 people in the United States who are smarter than I am, perhaps 15,000 women and 5,000 men. I reached this conclusion because a month after my wife and I got married, we had carried out some intelligence tests, and I discovered she was smarter than I, but we were already married. It was too late for me to do anything about it. Of course, I recognize that there are many physicists who are smarter than I am – theoretical physicists, most of them. There are a lot of smart people who have gone into theoretical physics, so there is a lot of competition there. I console myself with the thought that they may be smarter than I am and deeper thinkers than I am, but I have broader interests than they have. I don’t suppose that there is anybody else in the world who has a good background, knowledge of physics, mathematics, theoretical physics, and who knows a great deal about chemistry – the amount that I know.

When I was eleven years old with no outside inspiration – just library books – I started collecting insects. Not only collecting insects but reading about insects. I was filling my mind with a lot of information about the lepidoptera and diptera and so on. My father, a druggist, died when I was nine. There was another druggist who was a friend of the family to whom I went if I needed some chemicals when I got interested in chemistry, but I wasn’t interested in chemistry yet. I was just interested in insects when I was eleven. I said, “A person who collects insects needs to have a killing bottle.” And I got a Mason jar from my mother. So all I needed now was ten grams of potassium cyanide and perhaps fifty grams of plaster of paris. So Mr. Ziegler, the druggist, gave me ten grams of potassium cyanide and fifty grams of plaster of paris, and I took them home, went out on the back porch, because I knew that potassium cyanide was dangerous, and I dumped the potassium cyanide into the bottle. I mixed the plaster of paris with some water and put it in the bottle on top of it and let it harden. I had my killing bottle. I collected a lot of insects.

Next year I got interested in minerals. I didn’t have very many minerals, at least that I could recognize, only agates. So about all I could do was go around Portland looking for piles of gravel where someone was putting in a house foundation or sidewalk. I’d go through the gravel looking for chunks of agate.

Just think of what the difference is now.  A young fellow gets interested in chemistry and is given a chemical set.   The chemical set doesn’t contain any potassium cyanide. It doesn’t even contain any copper  sulphate  or anything interesting because  they are all  poisonous  substances. Most chemicals are poisonous substances. These young budding chemists don’t have any chance to do anything interesting when they are given a chemical set anymore.   As I look back, I think it is pretty remarkable that Mr. Zieglar, this friend of the family,  would have just turned over one third of an ounce of potassium cyanide to me at age eleven. […]


Linus and Ava Helen, camping near Palm Springs, 1924.

Linus and Ava Helen, camping near Palm Springs, 1924.

[…] I  was   very  fortunate  when   I   came  to  the   California   Institute   of Technology.    There was a new experimental technique that had been discovered only eight years before.    This was the determination of the structure of crystals by the x-ray diffraction method.    Roscoe Dickinson,  a  few  years older than I, had been using this technique for three or four years at the California Institute of Technology.    He was the first man to get a Ph.D.  from the California Institute of Technology. He taught me the technique.    I was very much excited about it.    It took only a couple of months for him to teach me how to determine the structure of a rather simple crystal by taking x-ray diffraction photographs of it and then analyzing those photographs.    Perhaps the greatest thing that he taught me was how to assess the reliability of your own conclusions.   He taught me to ask every time I reached some conclusion:

“Have I made some assumption in reaching this conclusion?    And what is the assumption? And what are the chances that this assumption is wrong? How reliable is the conclusion?” I have remembered this ever since and have continued to feel grateful to him ever since. It is possible to delude yourself if you have an original idea into thinking that there are observations that support this idea. Or it is possible when you think that you have developed some idea on the basis of a rational argument that you have made an assumption somewhere that isn’t justified. So this was very important in my development.

I hear people often describing me as a biochemist or as an organic chemist or something else. In fact, I never did like organic chemistry. I liked biochemistry even less. I didn’t have any courses to speak of in organic chemistry and no course at all in biochemistry. No course in any aspect of biology, nothing in medicine. But I have made contributions in the nutritional field and the biochemical field. If I were to go through my some eight hundred scientific papers, and see what fields of science I have made contributions   to,   I  could  say  I  am a x-ray  crystallographer. I am a mineralogist, because the American Mineralogist Society gave me their Roebling Medal which they give every year to an outstanding mineralogist. I am a physical chemist. That was what I called myself originally and what my Ph.D. diploma says. I am a chemical engineer too with a degree and five years of practical experience. I am an analytical chemist. When I was nineteen years old,   I didn’t have enough money to go back to my junior year at Oregon Agricultural College. As a sophomore I had taken the course in Quantitative Chemical Analysis and they gave me a job full time to teach the sophomore  Chemical Analysis. So I am an analytical chemist too. And I am an organic chemist.   I laid the theoretical  foundation for the tetrahedral carbon atom and developed resonance hybrid concept. I explained a lot of things in organic chemistry. I am a biochemist. I am a molecular biologist and sort of originated this field in a sense. I am a geneticist and have made contributions.   I’m an evolutionary scientist. […]


Pauling in 1989 - an extraordinary life. Photo by Paolo M. Sutter.

Pauling in 1989 – an extraordinary life. Photo by Paolo M. Sutter.

[…] In 1937, I was invited to give the prestigious George Fisher Baker Lectures at Cornell University. I went there for one semester. There had been famous chemists who had held this appointment. One requirement was that you write a book. My lectures were on the nature of the chemical bond, and the book came out in 1939, The Nature of the Chemical Bond. It was a bestseller, published by Cornell University Press. After a year the editor of Cornell University Press wrote to me and said, “Your edition of 10,000 copies is just about sold out. Would you prepare a second edition?” And I said, “Well, it hasn’t been a year yet. Nothing much has happened, but there have been some changes in this field. But why should I prepare a second edition of the book?”   He said, “Well, you don’t get any royalties from the book.   It was a condition of your appointment as George Fisher Baker Lecturer in Chemistry that you should write the book and present the manuscript.   There has never been a George Fisher Baker book that has gone into a second edition, but if you write a second edition, Cornell University Press will give you royalties on it.”

Well, that was a really good incentive.    I got busy and added ten pages perhaps and it came out as the second edition in 1940 and ever since then I have collected royalties.   On thinking back on this man, editor of Cornell University Press, he is really a remarkable man in that he should think that it would be unjust to me not to get royalties on that book that had become a scientific bestseller.    He was Amish from Pennsylvania and perhaps this may have something to do with his ethical standards.    It is a good thing that people have ethical standards.

People keep saying to me, “How does it come about that you shifted your field every five or ten years in a remarkable way?” In fact, all that I did was to expand my field of interest. I started out first determining the structure of minerals, and the second job I did was to determine the structure of an intermetallic compound — the first intermetallic compound to have its structure determined. For about ten years I worked on the structure of silicate minerals and of various other inorganic compounds.

So that was one period, but then I got interested in the structure of organic molecules. And there was another technique. We built the first apparatus in the United States to determine the structure of gas molecules by electron diffraction. A friend of mine, Herman Mark in Germany, was the man who built the very first apparatus of this sort. So I began determining interatomic distances, and applying quantum mechanics which I had learned as one of the first people in the field in 1926 when I was in Germany on a Guggenheim Fellowship.   All of this related to the question of the nature of the chemical bond. In the 1930s I formulated several new ideas about chemical bonds.

In 1935 the Rockefeller Foundation had been supporting my work on the crystal structure of the sulphide minerals, and they said to me, “You know, we’re not really interested in the sulphide minerals.    We’re interested in biological substances.”   They had been giving me five thousand dollars a year.   I thought, “What do I know about biological materials?   Not very much.   Hemoglobin, red cells in the blood, molecular weight about 68,000, that has four iron atoms in it.   Iron compounds often are paramagnetic.    So why don’t I apply to the Rockefeller Foundation  and  suggest  that  I  measure  the  magnetic   susceptibility  of hemoglobin and hemoglobin derivatives?”   So I did. And they gave me fifty thousand dollars.    This shows that these fellows in the big foundations can influence  activities  of  scientists.

So we measured  the magnetic susceptibility of blood. Venus blood turned out to be paramagnetic, and arterial blood was diamagnetic,  meaning repelled by a magnet.    Careful measurements  of this sort gave  astonishing  information  about   the  structure  of  the hemoglobin molecule. So then I thought, “Well, what about the rest of the hemoglobin molecule?    There are four iron atoms and 9,996 other atoms.   What are they doing?    So I had better work on the structure of proteins.”  I was giving a talk in 1936 at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research about the magnetic properties of hemoglobin.    A man named Karl Landsteiner sent word to me, asking me to come to his laboratory to talk to him.   I did.   He said he was making immunological studies — antibodies, antitoxins.   He wanted to know if I could explain some of his observations.    So I thought about them for four years and finally wrote a paper, and when the second edition of his book came out there was a chapter by me on the molecular structure of antibodies.    I hadn’t changed my course.    I’d just gone on roads that have diverged a  little from the ones I’d been  going  on.

An Interview with Balz Frei, Director of the Linus Pauling Institute

Balz Frei

Balz Frei

Oregon State University is turning 150 years old in 2018, and already several projects are being developed to mark the occasion.  One of them is a major oral history initiative that is capturing the stories of a wide array of alumni, faculty, staff, administrators and friends of OSU.

Several months ago, the project conducted an interview with Dr. Balz Frei, who has led OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute since 1997.  A Swiss native, Frei worked under Bruce Ames at UC-Berkeley before moving on to Harvard, the Boston University School of Medicine and, ultimately, Oregon State.

Frei’s research has always focused on the processes fundamental to human health. During his time in Berkeley, Frei became interested in vitamin C and met Linus Pauling. His later work has focused on oxidative stress and the role that it plays in atherosclerosis. He has also investigated arterial function and potential dietary compounds – including vitamin C – that might help prevent oxidation of LDL cholesterol.

Under Frei’s leadership, the Linus Pauling Institute has stabilized its funding base, hired several principal investigators and made substantial contributions to the published literature on subjects relating to nutrition and optimal human health.

In 2011 the Institute celebrated a major milestone with the completion of the Linus Pauling Science Center. This 105,000 square foot facility, built for $62.5 million, is the largest academic facility project in OSU history. Now housed in this new space, LPI continues to conduct research on cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, healthy aging, and cancer chemoprotection, and engages in public outreach through its Micronutrient Information Center and Healthy Youth Program.

Excerpts from Frei’s oral history interview, including his memories of meeting Pauling, his sense of Pauling’s vitamin C work, and his vision for the future of LPI, are included below the cut.

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The Globe-Democrat Suit

lp-amberg-19601015

Linus Pauling’s involvement in the peace movement, and particularly his circulation of what is now know as the United Nations bomb test petition, made him doubly famous: he was no longer just a scientist, but a humanitarian as well. This fame came at a price though, as his peace efforts did not always receive the positive acclaim afforded much of his scientific work. In an era of McCarthyism and Cold War fear of communism, his activities were sometimes viewed as a threat. Despite Pauling’s attempt to foment nonpartisan promotion of peace, any efforts to curb US armament was seen by many as de facto communist collaboration.

Pauling was monitored by the FBI and questioned twice by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS), a committee that was very suspicious of Pauling’s peace activities, especially the petition against nuclear bomb testing. The subcommittee subpoenaed him in June 1960 and demanded to see the names of all those who had helped gather signatures for the petition in 1957 and 1958. Pauling refused to provide this information as he felt a moral obligation to protect others from the types of governmental investigation that he himself was experiencing. The group subpoenaed Pauling again in October, but when he once more refused to produce the names the group backed down and he did not suffer any legal consequences.

On October 10, 1960, the day prior to Pauling’s second hearing before the subcommittee, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat published an editorial on the proceedings titled “Glorification of Deceit.”  The piece was written in the context of support having been expressed for Pauling by professors at Washington University, which is based in St. Louis. The editorial besmirched the reputations of two specific Washington professors, Edward Condon and Barry Commoner, and contained incorrect information regarding the June SISS proceedings.  Its author wrote

The Senate subcommittee called Pauling to testify as to who helped him collect the petitions. Pauling contemptuously refused to testify and was cited for contempt of Congress. He appealed to the United States District Court to rid him of the contempt citation, which that court refused to do. The appeal from the lower court’s affirmation of contempt is expected to be handed down by the Supreme Court today.

In fact, while Pauling did refuse to release the names of the people who helped him to collect signatures, he was never cited for contempt of Congress.

(Globe-Democrat publisher Richard H. Amberg defended the piece by suggesting that the Washington Post had run an editorial stating that Pauling had been cited for contempt of court, and that this information had been used in composing the St. Louis paper’s editorial.  However, no one was able to produce a copy of the original Washington Post text.)

The piece went on to pretty clearly imply that Pauling was, at best, not a patriot.  It concluded

Much is made of the fact that Pauling is a Nobel Prize winner. That is no guarantee of anything more than proficiency in chemistry. It certainly is no guarantee of either patriotism or correctness in foreign policy. It above all does not cloak him with an immunity to defy the Senate and to decide on his own prerogative what is best for America.

A great St. Louis institution is being badly used, nor is it the first time, by a group which glorifies deceit and evasion in the outrageous guise of freedom of speech and conscience.


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Pauling  was infuriated and, on October 15, wrote to Richard H. Amberg, the Globe-Democrat’s publisher, in protest:

Your completely untrue statements have without doubt greatly damaged my reputation and impaired my integrity in the minds of your readers in the St. Louis district and of others who may have seen them in your paper or possibly in other publications where they may have been quoted from your paper…I protest against your imputation that I am lacking in patriotism, and I demand that it be retracted.

Pauling’s letter was sent along with a letter from his lawyer, A.L. Wirin, insisting that both Pauling’s letter and a retraction be published.

Not suprisingly, many others in St. Louis – in particular, a number of Washington University faculty – were outraged by the Globe-Democrat’s opinion piece. Several people wrote letters to the editor condemning the editorial, the paper was deluged with phone calls, and a protest was staged at the university. Although some of the outraged letters were published, the negative response was mostly underplayed. In particular, the protest event received little news coverage and the article’s dissenters were subsequently dismissed in later editorials.

The Globe-Democrat published Linus Pauling’s letter on October 24th but offered only a very mild retraction, so Pauling decided to sue the paper for $300,000, claiming damages to his reputation. He immediately secured the services of at least three lawyers, who pretty quickly encountered an unforeseen problem: the court involved in Pauling’s libel suit demanded that he produce the names of the people who had helped to collect signatures for the nuclear bomb test petition. This was the very information that he had worked so hard to protect during the SISS hearings. The request presented him with a moral dilemma, one spelled out in a letter that he wrote to his lawyer in December 1960.

Most of these 59 American scientists are people of such established reputation that it might be thought that no reprisals could be visited against them. However, the fact that I have suffered through being subpoenaed by the Internal Security Subcommittee and through the issuance of damaging statements about me by the Acting Chairman of the Subcommittee shows, I think, that I cannot by any means be assured that reprisals would not be visited against these scientists, despite their established reputations….The attack on me by Senator Dodd and the Internal Security Subcommittee has continued even after the hearing, and I feel that I cannot turn over names to the Subcommittee or make the names public in such a way that the subcommittee would come into possession of them.

After receiving a letter from his lawyers urging him to change his mind, Pauling replied in January 1961.

Senator Dodd did not overrule my objection and direct me to produce the names. In view of this fact, I believe that I am justified in continuing to keep these letters of transmittal confidential.

His counsel then advised him:

I am afraid that the matter becomes rather different when you are asked to produce them in a libel suit which you yourself have filed. The Court may very well say ‘You may keep the letters of transmittal confidential if you desire, but the defendant has a right to see them to make any possible defense to this suit. If, therefore, you refuse to produce them, the Court has no alternative but to dismiss your suit.’

In the meantime, the Globe-Democrat continued to publish articles attacking Pauling. In March the paper wrote an editorial titled “Pauling Rebuked” that spoke to a report that had recently been issued by SISS. The SISS publication stated that the world communist movement had applauded Pauling’s 1958 petition. The Globe-Democrat surmised

Men, like Pauling, who should know better, and the many in St. Louis and elsewhere who immediately leaped to his defense, have wittingly or unwittingly—and we believe they knew what they were doing—played the Communist game.


Barry Commoner, ca. 1960s.

Wrestling with his moral dilemma, Pauling decided to write to some of the people who had helped to circulate the bomb test petition to see how they would feel about him releasing their names in the context of his libel suit. He wrote to Barry Commoner, one of the men who helped him to formulate the idea of the petition and who collected many signatures for it. Commoner replied that he would like to know more about how the information would be used and expressed a wish to speak to Pauling about it directly over the phone. In August 1961, Pauling wrote back:

I think that it is my duty to make a decision about the letters still in my possession from American scientists who communicated the signatures of themselves and other scientists to the Appeal….Of all of the approximately 60 Americans whose letters I have, you are the one who is most closely connected with the Appeal, other than myself….Your close connection with the Appeal is of course on the public record….I think accordingly that the difficulty that you have found in deciding how to respond to my request, and have expressed in your two letters to me, provides the answer to the question that was on my mind.

Commoner replied to Pauling later that month:

I believe, as you do, that those of us publicly associated with the Appeal have a moral duty to protect from harassment the others who helped in this work….I would regard any demand for details regarding the circulation of the Appeal as a serious threat to academic freedom, and I would consider it my duty as a member of the academic community to resist such a demand….My own judgment is that I could find no justification for giving the Globe-Democrat attorneys answers which I would refuse to give the government agency. In general, I do not understand why my letter is relevant and necessary in order to establish that the Globe-Democrat made false and damaging statements about you. Further, it seems to me that the suit could – regardless of who wins it – have the effect of bringing about a violation of the principles for which you have fought so hard, and in the local circumstances it may precipitate the kind of harassment of our colleagues that is so repugnant to all of us.

While Commoner’s letter built a case against making the letters of transmittal public, another signature gatherer, Charles Coryell, did give permission for his name to be used in court and did not seem concerned about the consequences. After much thought on the matter, Pauling ultimately decided to release the names for the lawsuit.


Editorial cartoon published in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, September 12, 1961.

Editorial cartoon published in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, September 12, 1961.

Meanwhile, Pauling’s lawyers were becoming more and more concerned about how his case might fare were it to go to a jury, due mostly to the barrage of negative commentary being released about him. In a letter between two of Pauling’s representatives, A. L. Wirin wrote to John Green:

It is Dr. Pauling’s considered view that the suit should be filed. We realize fully that it may not be possible to obtain for Dr. Pauling the public vindication which he deserves, as you put it so well. But we feel that good conscience is on Dr. Pauling’s side; good conscience should prevail in the courts; and Dr. Pauling is willing to take the chance that it may not.

Amidst this backdrop, the Globe-Democrat continued to publish opinion pieces that chipped away at Pauling’s standing. On September 12, 1961, the paper released an editorial titled “No Thunder on the Left,” which pointed out that

The Soviet Union has violated its nuclear test pledge openly now – for almost two weeks….We have waited, though without baited breath, for bitter protest from the Pauling galaxy of scientists who raised such a furor in America,  demanding absolute ban against nuclear tests of all kinds….[Pauling] seemed immensely more concerned to get the United States and other free countries to prohibit nuclear tests – with no mention made in his proposals for inspection or controls

The piece also reiterated Pauling’s status as portrayed in the March SISS report: “A subcommittee of the Senate last March found that Dr. Pauling had ‘displayed a significant pro-Soviet bias.'”

The editorial further frustrated and angered Pauling, in part because inspection of testing programs in other countries was clearly mentioned in the 1958 petition. Pauling also regularly spoke out against testing in all of the era’s nuclear nations.

By this point, Pauling’s support system was starting to erode. Barry Commoner, in particular, now found himself in active opposition to Pauling’s lawsuit.  Though he remained Pauling’s friend and certainly was in line with most of his activism, he was worried about Pauling’s decision to turn over the names of those who circulated the petition. His hope was that Pauling would drop the lawsuit to mitigate further risk to his and others’ reputations, especially in St. Louis.


Pauling's notes on the Globe-Democrat jury trial, following its conclusion. March 1964.

Pauling’s notes on the Globe-Democrat jury trial, following its conclusion. March 1964.

In March 1964, Pauling’s libel suit faced a jury trial in St. Louis and was defeated.  Pauling filed many libel suits in the early 1960s and most of them were lost due to an important United States Supreme Court ruling, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, that established a higher standard of proof for libeling public figures. Interestingly, Pauling lost the Globe-Democrat case before this new paradigm had been established. It may well be that Pauling’s lawyers’ fears had been justified; that his case had gone down in flames largely because of the negative public sentiment engendered by its defendant, the Globe-Democrat.

Embattled and in a stubborn frame of mind, Pauling decided to appeal for a re-trial, but the following year his request was rejected. His lawyers appealed a second time and in 1966 they received an opinion from the United States Court of Appeals denying the claim, based on the New York Times ruling. Pauling then filed a writ of certiorari, but that too was dismissed in 1967.  And so it was that the Globe-Democrat debacle finally came to a conclusion, nearly seven years after it began.

Belle Pauling: Hard Times

Belle Pauling, 1910s.

Belle Pauling, 1910s.

Widowed with three kids, Belle Pauling found herself at a major crossroads in life at the young age of 29.  After initially seeking out some measure of continuity by hiring a manager for her deceased husband’s drugstore, Belle was soon forced to sell both the store and her house in order to buy a larger house. Her intent in doing so was to take on boarders, one of the few income possibilities open to her, given that all three of her children were still under the age of ten.

Having never been in charge of the family finances, Belle made some initial mistakes as she overpaid for the house and, in hopes of offering an attractive place for boarders, bought several expensive appliances.  She also hired someone to cook and clean.  Burdened by these expenses, Belle chronically teetered on the edge of being able to make enough rental income to support her and the children.

Belle’s life began to crumble in other ways as well. Her years-long battle with depression only worsened and she was soon diagnosed with pernicious anemia, which left her physically weak.  At first she refrained from telling the children, as she did not want to frighten them with the possibility that they may soon lose their mother.  Left to care for the children by herself, Belle let them run free around the neighborhood well into the night.  She was also unprepared to deal with her maturing daughters.   As Pauline later recalled, Belle made her and Lucile feel that menstruation “was a scourge that afflicted only women in their family.”

Belle found some relief through weekend visits to Herman’s parents, times during which she could reminisce about the days when her husband and their son was still living.  She also fulfilled one of her lifelong dreams of owning a piano. She and the children began taking lessons and would have singing parties:  Lucile, who took the most to the piano, would play as Pauline joined on ukulele and Linus sang.  In 1913 the family was also able to take a vacation to the Oregon coast, staying in the house of a friend.  This was the only time that the family would take such a trip.

Lucile, Linus, Belle and Pauline, 1916.

Lucile, Linus, Belle and Pauline, 1916.

Once Linus was 13, he began to help out more by taking on odd jobs – delivering papers, milk, and letters, selling meat, and projecting movies.  He didn’t particularly enjoy this work, but Belle came to depend on him more and more for income, so after quitting one job he would soon have to find another.  He even found short-term employment resetting pins at a bowling alley while the family vacationed at the coast.

Belle’s dependence on her children, especially on Linus and Pauline, began to wear on them.  After Belle had to let the cook and maid go, she relied even more on the children to take care of the house.  Linus later remembered his mother “issuing requests and orders and browbeating the children, often from her bed.”

On one occasion, Lucile had taken a boy’s bike for a ride without his permission.  Once she was finished, the boy punched Lucile to the ground.  When she came home crying to her brother, imploring him to go beat up the boy, Linus refused.  Belle strongly disapproved of Linus’s decision and admonished him as a bad brother. Unsurprisingly, as he reached adolescence, Linus began distancing himself more and more from his mother.

As Pauline reached her teenage years, she also came under pressure from Belle.  Rather than look for a job to bring in income, Belle wanted Pauline to marry someone wealthy.  When Pauline was seventeen, Belle had found just the man for her.  Pauline did not take well to her mother’s pressure, particularly since the man was thirty years old.  Belle’s persistence became unbearable and Pauline eventually called the police, telling them that her mother was forcing her into marriage with a much older man.

In the fall of 1917, Linus enrolled at Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis.  Belle’s nephew, Mervyn Stephenson, was already a junior there and so she arranged for Linus to live in the same boarding house.  Had her nephew not been there, Belle would not have let Linus attend college, and she continued to believe that he should keep working to help support the family.  She rode down to Corvallis with Linus to stay with him for his first night there and to make sure that everything was in order.  After she left, any pretense that her nephew would help Linus disappeared; he offered Linus some advice on getting by in college and after that the two saw very little of each other.  Linus moved out of the boarding house soon afterward.

William Bryden and Belle Pauling.

William Bryden and Belle Pauling.

With Linus away and not working as much, Belle began a courtship with William Brace Bryden, a lumberman.  In a manner very similar to her first encounter with Herman nearly twenty years earlier, Belle’s sister Goldie set the two up on a blind date.  By June 1918 they were married, but it did not last long.  Bryden was not helpful and neither Pauline nor Lucile liked him.  Additionally, when Belle came down with the flu, Bryden offered little assistance.  After Belle recovered and was strong enough, the two constantly argued until, one day in September, Bryden left to go to the barbershop and never came back.

While Linus attended college, he continued to work and send money home to his mother.  By the Spring of 1922, Linus was ready to step further away from his mother’s influence.  He and Ava Helen Miller were recently engaged to be married and Linus made plans to attend graduate school in southern California, where he hoped Ava Helen would join him.  Belle and Ava Helen’s mother, Nora Gard Miller, quickly intervened.  Both mothers thought it best that their child finish their educations before getting married.  The young couple gave in and Linus went to California alone.

With Linus nearly 1,000 miles away, Belle kept him up-to-date on life in Portland, and the news was often not good.  As her health continued to worsen, Belle began to see doctors more and more.  One doctor had her fast for three days and then stayed with her all day as he administered one quart of olive oil over four doses.  Belle told her son, “It is a wonderful treatment, takes all the poisons out of your system.  I feel like a new woman.  I am weak yet but will soon feel strong.”  The positive effects rarely lasted long though and Belle continued to seek out different treatments, sometimes against Linus’s wishes.

In October 1922, Linus sent Belle a letter trying to get his debts to her in order.  This shocked Belle as she could not understand why Linus felt that he owed her, preferring that he continue to support her and his sisters out of purer motives.  Nonetheless, her response could not have helped but make him feel either guilty or resentful:

Do you think because I have let you help carry the burden this year that you are repaying me for money I gave you for your education or the cost of your living since you were born or perhaps pay me for the pain I suffered in bring you into this world… You are helping the girls and not me personally… I have never worried when I had money to give you but I have worried a lot because I couldn’t help you more.

Part of Linus’s money was going to support Pauline’s college tuition – she had also gone on to OAC, leaving Belle and Lucile alone in Portland.  Belle and her youngest daughter got along relatively well and the two traveled together and spent days out shopping downtown.  Both of them were also members of the Order of the Eastern Star; Belle was able to join earlier only because she had made Linus join the Masons.  At the meetings, Lucile sometimes sang, which pleased Belle even more.

Linus, however, continued to disappoint his mother.  One year, while in Pasadena, he had forgotten her birthday. Belle did not take this well, writing:

I look around me and I see lots of young men who have mothers (and fathers too) who are lovely to their mothers.  I tell myself over and over that you do not mean to be unkind but even so such a situation is very depressing.

Linus and Ava Helen also began to make new plans to marry and this gave Belle even more to worry about, as she wanted them to hold the ceremony near to her.  Linus, though, did not include Belle in on the planning, giving her another cause for concern.

Linus made up for all of this by sending his mother a birthday card and a letter which made Belle “feel so much better.”  Ava Helen also tried to bring her some comfort by offering to come up to visit her, but Belle claimed she was too busy as she had four boarders to attend to at the time.  At long last, in June 1923, Linus drove up to Salem, where he and Ava Helen were married. The two then drove to Portland to stay with Belle before going down to California for Linus to continue his schooling.  They returned in the summer of 1925 with their first-born child, Linus Jr.

By that time Pauline had married the athletic director of the local Elk’s Club and the two had moved to Los Angeles.  This devastated Belle, causing her to collapse.  From then on Lucile was the only one around to care for Belle, whose health continued to deteriorate.  Belle began to suffer bouts of delusion and loss of feeling and movement in her limbs. She left many of the household decisions and responsibilities up to Lucile, something for which the nineteen-year-old was not well prepared.

Belle with her grandson Linus Jr., 1925.

Belle with her grandson Linus Jr., 1925.

In March 1926, Linus and Ava Helen came to visit on their way to Europe.  They needed someone to take care of Linus Jr. and had arranged to leave him with Ava Helen’s mother.  When Linus saw his own mother, he was shocked by her appearance – her gray hair and poor balance were clear indications that she was not doing well.  He was tempted to cancel the trip, but ended up going, leaving some money behind to help pay for the increasing expenses surrounding Belle’s care.

Two weeks after Linus and Ava Helen left, Belle sold her home to Lucile for ten dollars, who rented the house out so that she and her mother could move to a smaller apartment.  But Belle’s condition only worsened as she became increasingly restless and had trouble sleeping.  Her moods also grew more volatile, moving from suspicion to happiness to fear.  Eventually Belle’s behavior became so unmanageable for Lucile that she called her aunt Goldie to help.  The two decided that it was best that Belle be moved to the state mental hospital in Salem.  Her admittance form summed up Belle’s difficult life:

Natural disposition? ‘Moral character good.  Disposition happy.  Lost husband 16 years ago – raised family through great struggles.’

First symptoms of mental derangement? ‘Worried from illness and too much responsibility.’

Lucy Isabelle (Darling) Pauling passed away in Salem on July 12, 1926.

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