Swirling

Ava Helen Pauling speaking at a "No More Hiroshimas" march, sponsored by Women Strike for Peace. August 1961. San Francisco, California.

Ava Helen Pauling speaking at a “No More Hiroshimas” march, sponsored by Women Strike for Peace. August 1961. San Francisco, California.

[An excerpt from Ava Helen Pauling: Partner, Activist, Visionary, by Dr. Mina Carson - now available from the Oregon State University Press.]

Linus’s night on the cliff at Salmon Cone proved a stutter but not an interruption of the Paulings’ accelerating peace work from the late 1950s into the early 1960s. Typically, Ava Helen did not pause, at least in writing, over her scare that night and Linus’s post-traumatic reactions. By early 1960 she had plunged into her service as a board member of the United States section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Within WILPF, she had a new cause: the promotion of an international congress of women for peace.

Linda Richards, a student of nuclear politics, has posited that there is a style of activism that might be characterized as “swirling” or circulating: one individual flowing through a number of different networks and organizations, planting seeds of ideas, making connections, circling back to remind people of their promises and possibilities. This is the kind of activist Ava Helen became. Though her name appeared on the masthead of her organizations for limited periods of time, and is not frequently found in the national and international archives of these groups, her correspondence attests to her wide-ranging contacts, her polite yet direct approach to getting things done, and her persistence. In addition, the blunt and sometimes impatient Ava Helen rears her mischievous head.

The Paulings, 1960.

The Paulings, 1960.

Ava Helen’s service in WILPF and her breathtaking international travel schedule, as she talked with and befriended women around the world, fertilized the feminist thought in her approach to activism. More and more she was called on to be the voice of women acting for peace. Claire Walsh at the United States WILPF headquarters in Philadelphia asked Ava Helen after her appointment to the national board if she would be available to give talks to small groups of WILPF members.

I should be very happy to speak … if you think that I have something of interest to say to them. I suppose that you are suggesting that I tell about such matters as our visit to Dr. Schweitzer and other things of interest which I may have observed on our many travels.

She had already given speeches on Russia, particularly conditions for women and children, on conservation, and on the international WILPF meeting in Stockholm. She was mobbed after her speeches, and her skills grew. “I don’t know why you should fret over a speech; you couldn’t make a bad one, not with that delivery power you sway,” a friend assured her. In March 1961, inviting her and Linus to speak to the recently organized Canadian branch of the Voice of Women (VOW), Jan Symons wrote to Ava Helen that, according to the VOW members, she was “becoming as much of a celebrity as your husband.”

When the Paulings traveled together, now most of the time, there was little hiatus from demands on their time and energies. “I only regret that we are such dreadful guests,” she wrote one hostess on returning from New York in late 1960. “The telephone rings every two minutes and I am sure that our hostesses are always glad to see us leave.” The Paulings welcomed the new student movement of the 1960s, and student activists began inviting both Linus and Ava Helen to their events. In May 1960 the Paulings joined the San Francisco Peace March.


Group photo of participants in the Oslo Conference, 1961.

Group photo of participants in the Oslo Conference, 1961.

At the beginning of 1961 the Paulings launched two related projects: a new petition drive to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and a May meeting in Oslo of world scientists and intellectuals to precede a scheduled NATO ministers’ meeting in the same month. The young Kennedy administration seemed willing on the one hand to go forward with test-ban negotiations, and on the other to share nuclear weapons with NATO allies. The Paulings shifted their focus slightly to take on the issue of proliferation. The petition drive of 1957 to 1959 had worked very well. Now they sent the new petitions to two thousand of their previous signers and received seven hundred signatures back, including thirty-eight Nobel Prize winners. These Pauling presented to the United Nations, as before, and immediately broadened the appeal. The Pauling home again became command central for a mailing drive of international proportions. The response was positive, though there was a bit of confusion about a simultaneous petition circulated by SANE calling for an end to testing. Ava Helen had to explain to at least one correspondent that both petitions were “worthwhile,” but that theirs focused on nonproliferation.

Simultaneously, the Paulings started rounding up support for the proposed meeting in Oslo to bring together scientists from Soviet satellites as well as western countries, to contest the NATO stance that it was impossible to cooperate with Soviet-dominated governments. Underlining that this project was theirs alone, they had stationery made up under the title “Conference Against the Spread of Nuclear Weapons, Oslo, Norway, 2 to 7 May 1961,” under their names and home address in Pasadena. Individuals listed as sponsors included Karl Barth, Max Born, Mrs. Cyrus Eaton, Erich Fromm, Lewis Mumford, Gunnar Myrdal, Alan Paton, Bertrand Russell, Albert Schweitzer, and Hideki Yukawa. The Paulings had emphasized to prospective attendees – only about seventy-five were invited – that there were no organizational sponsors except a Norwegian group handling local arrangements. The Paulings also offered to pay the travel costs of participants.

Always on the move - the Paulings in 1961.

Always on the move – the Paulings in 1961.

Ava Helen used her network of connections to push the petition and raise money for the conference. Her friend Jan Symons, a recent migrant from New Zealand to Canada, warned her that some of her new acquaintances in Quebec shied away from the Paulings’ petition for several reasons, chief among them the Communist bugaboo. Their new Canadian organization, the Voice of Women, was feeling the anti-Communist heat, and the Paulings were perceived as leftwing and untrustworthy (Linus’s warnings about smoking apparently representing a medical fringe element). Within VOW, Symons claimed, Ava Helen was declared to be “as much of a celebrity as your husband,” but outside the group, both VOW and WILPF were suspect. “One nice Quaker woman psychiatrist told me that it undoubtedly had a bad name in the U.S. as Communist.” Like Ava Helen, Jan Symons was exasperated.

We are told we are peace-loving, that it is the Russians, the Communists who want war … I notice that when people get Russian scientists to sign petitions against war, however, they are dismissed as only another Communist front.

Despite some peace workers’ reluctance to sign the petition, the Oslo conference was a heartening success for the Paulings. On the way they visited France, where Linus received a prestigious award from the city of Paris; they arrived in Oslo on May 4. Sixty scientists, intellectuals, and peace activists attended from around the world, including the Soviet Union. Else Zeuthen, international chair of WILPF, joined nine or ten other WILPF leaders at the conference. Without agendas in hand at the beginning of the meeting, the participants shifted into high gear almost immediately to draft, collectively, a statement for post-conference circulation among the citizens of the world. The group included members of the test-ban negotiating teams of both the United States and the Soviet Union; the collective level of expertise at the conference was high, attesting to the Paulings’ global credibility. The statement the group hammered out called for a ban on the spread of nuclear weapons to any more nations or groups of nations; universal disarmament to prevent a “cataclysmic nuclear war”; and international controls and inspection of nuclear weapons “such as to insure to the greatest possible extent the safety of all nations and all people.” Linus Pauling and Ava Helen Pauling were the first signatories – and the only ones directly under the statement text (other original signers were listed on the back of the copies circulated throughout the world for additional signatures).

Ava Helen opened the conference on the first night, and Linus gave a speech. In the mornings and evenings the Paulings circulated around the tables, checking in with people. Their friend from Berkeley, Dr. Frances Herring, remarked in a diary of the conference that Ava Helen looked “tragically tired.” Herring discovered that few of the attendees realized that the Paulings had underwritten the conference financially as well as morally.

There is to be a torch parade, winding from the Nobel Institute to the Grand Hotel (about a mile) tomorrow night, to honor the Paulings. That should make them feel good!

In fact, despite their exhaustion, both Paulings were delighted with the conference. “Everything has gone along almost perfectly,” Linus wrote. “The Aula meeting was grand. The Vice-Rector gave a speech thanking us. Friday night there was a great torchlight procession in our honor – quite a sight!” Else Zeuthen offered a longer reflection on the evening in her report to the WILPF membership.

A most striking moment of those eventful days was one evening after sunset, when the Paulings received the homage of a torchlight procession, standing on the balcony of their room on an upper floor of the Grand Hotel. Many members of our Norwegian Section were among the procession, whereas Inga Beskow and I enjoyed the wonderful show from the vantage point of a neighboring balcony of the Hotel. The torches flared beautifully in the soft spring night and filled the whole of Karl Johan, the impressive main thoroughfare of Oslo, as far as the eye could see. Numerous cries of ‘Thank you, Pauling’ sounded from the procession. The Paulings were much moved by this beautiful display of confidence; and how they deserved it for their brave and indefatigable work! Marie Lous Mohr [a Norwegian WILPF leader] at the festive dinner given to the Conference made a speech expressing a hope that Oslo might once more welcome Professor Pauling, and then as Nobel Peace Prize-Winner.

They stayed on in Oslo for several days. Linus gave a radio address and both Paulings spoke at the university as well as holding a press conference. They attended a cocktail party at the Russian Embassy. As always, every meal was an event. To Peter, Ava Helen admitted that they were exhausted, but “fairly contented” with the outcome. She too was impressed with the ceremony called out by international meetings: in this case, the NATO ministers meeting that directly followed their own. “The 50 star USA flag did, I must say, look beautiful waving in the spring winds. All the flags looked fine. I see why there must be a flag.”

ahp-bio

Ava Helen Pauling: Partner, Activist, Visionary is available for purchase from the Oregon State University Press.

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