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

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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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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 Lucy Isabelle 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.


190-i.029

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.

 

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