Final Years as Division Chair: Progress Within, Trouble Without

Linus Pauling, 1958. Photo Credit: Wayne Miller.

[Pauling as Administrator]

Linus Pauling’s last years as Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology were punctuated by the construction of the Norman W. Church Laboratory for Chemical Biology, which commenced in August 1954. Earlier budget concerns, which threatened to reduce the size of the building and to leave much of it unfurnished, had been partially overcome when an extra $250,000 was allocated for the project. But even this fresh infusion of cash was not enough to get the building over the hump. Full funding was not in hand until the next spring, when a $368,000 construction grant was awarded to provide for the laboratory’s furnishings.

All told, the Church facility cost more then $2 million to complete. It was dedicated in November 1955 as part of the National Academy of Sciences’ annual meeting, which was held at Caltech at Pauling’s urging. Faculty and staff did not fully occupy the building until the following summer, but everybody was pleased with the result and, in particular, the opportunities for collaboration between chemistry and biology that the shared space helped to facilitate. In short, things were continuing to look good for the division under Pauling.


Pauling’s 1956 division report was equally congratulatory. Echoing the tone of earlier years, the report recognized it’s head for developing a division that used chemical methods to advance critical questions that cut across disciplines. Decades before, the report noted, A.A. Noyes had attained similar heights in building a chemical division that was capable of applying physical methods to chemical questions. Now, in 1956, Caltech could boast of a unit that was “strong” in chemistry and chemical engineering and “especially outstanding” in research on molecular structure and the application of chemistry to biology and medicine.

The division’s strengths had a lot to do with the funding that it attracted and, despite some setbacks, Pauling remained fundamental to making this so. One major achievement from this time period was to secure matching funds for the $1,500,000 challenge grant that had been put forth by the Rockefeller Foundation earlier in the decade. Pauling played a key role in solidifying the Rockefeller money in many ways, including his successful authorship of a $450,000 Ford Foundation grant to support his research on the molecular chemistry of mental disease. In addition to being well-funded, the intellectual heft of this particular line of research greatly impressed many of the younger faculty in particular.


While the view inside the division was rosy, Pauling was coming under increasing scrutiny elsewhere. Time and again, Pauling’s loyalty to the United States was being questioned by government and media sources alike, a circumstance that led Caltech’s administration to apply more pressure on Pauling to reduce his profile as an activist.

One noteworthy instance came about in 1958 when Fulton Lewis Jr., a conservative newspaper and radio commentator, attacked Pauling’s recent circulation of a petition that called for an international agreement to end nuclear testing. Lewis accused Pauling of making money off of the petition, estimating that Pauling was earning $10 from each signature. Lewis also charged Pauling with damaging the security of the United States by focusing on the cessation of U.S. testing efforts and overlooking tests being conducted by other nuclear countries.

After reading Lewis’ column, T. C. Coleman, President of the Engineering Company of Los Angeles, wrote to Caltech President Lee DuBridge expressing his view that this was just another reminder of how Pauling was tarnishing Caltech’s image. Coleman then threatened to withhold any future financial support from the Institute

unless I again become convinced that a truly loyal attitude prevails, and that prominent staff members such as Dr. Pauling will be required to show cause why their political activities are not detrimental to the college and the country which deserves this loyalty.

In issuing this warning, Coleman claimed that he was not trying to suppress Pauling’s ability to express his opinions, nor was he concerned that Pauling would influence Caltech’s students, since, as Coleman put it, “as they mature they will grow more conservative.” What Coleman was most concerned about was that Pauling was not taking seriously the “heavy responsibility” that came with representing Caltech to a public who might be more easily persuaded by his views because of his scientific credentials. Coleman was sure that Caltech would have already dismissed him had Pauling not been such a well-respected scientist internationally and leader within the Institute.

President DuBridge forwarded Coleman’s letter to Pauling and to Albert Ruddock, the chair of the Institute’s Board of Trustees. Ruddock responded directly to Coleman and in vigorous defense of Pauling, noting that his “unconventional opinions” were not evidence of disloyalty – a trait that Caltech would not tolerate. Ruddock further pointed out that accusing Pauling of being disloyal was absurd since his opinions on banning nuclear tests had by then been adopted by President Eisenhower. From there, Ruddock suggested that Pauling’s political activities had not interfered at all with his science, and that he was still “supreme in his field.” In fact,

The very independence of thought that leads Dr. Pauling into certain attitudes and opinions to which you and many others object is that which lies at the very basis of investigational research.

The board, Ruddock explained, would be hypocritical if they punished Pauling for exercising independent thought in one area, and encouraged it in another. Furthermore, disciplining Pauling would open a “Pandora’s Box of difficulties” that would “explode” as other faculty members rushed to defend Pauling, even if they did not agree with his activities.


For his part, Pauling’s only response was to DuBridge. Having read Fulton’s article, Coleman’s letter, and Ruddock’s reply, Pauling explained to the Caltech president that Fulton’s column was misleading in more ways than one. For starters, his petition called for both the United States and the Soviet Union to stop their nuclear tests. Pauling also corrected Fulton’s calculation of how much each signature cost, putting it at three cents each. Pauling himself bore most of this cost as he had hired a secretary to help him with the circulation effort, which was global in scope.

Pauling then confided his intent to file a libel lawsuit against Lewis using, with DuBridge’s permission, Coleman’s letter as evidence. Pauling concluded his letter as follows:

Let me say that I feel that the United States of America is in great danger from the group of powerful but misguided men, among them T. C. Coleman, who attempt to misuse their power in the way illustrated by Mr. Coleman’s letter.

Unfortunately for Pauling, letters like Coleman’s would continue to come across DuBridge’s desk, and the pressure on Pauling would continue to mount. It was only a matter of time until Pauling would decide to step down as Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.

Final Years as Division Chair: The Admission of Women

Dorothy Semenow

[Pauling as Administrator]

As the 1950s moved forward, Linus Pauling’s increasingly public stances on nuclear weapons and peace issues emerged as a public relations problem for the California Institute of Technology’s administration, as they repeatedly were forced to respond to charges that Pauling was a communist. As this problem became more pronounced, three of the Institute’s trustees made good on threats to resign because of Pauling’s public image.

That image also drew the attention of fellow scientists around the country. In one instance, W. H. Eberhardt of the Georgia Institute of Technology asked Pauling about Louis Budenz, a former Communist Party member turned informant, who had testified before a government panel in early 1953 that Pauling was a “member of the Communist Party under discipline.” In his reply, Pauling explained that the accusation meant that there was no actual evidence that showed that Pauling was a member of the Communist Party. Pauling added that he was “pretty irritated” by Budenz’ testimony, but as Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Pauling was obliged to set his irritations aside as he dealt with a wide array of professional responsibilities.


As a division chair at Caltech, Pauling was, by default, forced to deny entry to any women applicants who wished to pursue graduate study within the unit. Caltech’s formal policy was that women not be admitted at any level, though they could be employed as post-doctoral research assistants.

In practice, even a post-doctoral appointment rarely happened. One potential post-doc, I. E. Keszler, was considered in the spring of 1953, but ultimately turned away by Lazlo Zechmeister because her interest in developing tests to determine the dyes used in wines was considered to be too tangential a research question. Women seeking to become graduate students did not, of course, receive even that level of consideration, but that would change the same year that Keszler was denied.


The woman who broke through Caltech’s glass ceiling was Dorothy Semenow, a graduate student in chemistry working with John D. Roberts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When Roberts accepted a position at Caltech, Semenow expressed a desire to relocate as well, so that she could continue working with him. After receiving an “informal application” from Semenow in February, Pauling brought her case to William N. Lacey, Caltech’s Dean of Graduate Studies. Lacey replied that he would have to take this situation to the Graduate Committee, who would then need to make a recommendation to the Faculty Board and also gain the approval of the Board of Trustees.

The following week, the division faculty deliberated on the language of a request that would be made to the Faculty Board asking that the Committee on Graduate Study be empowered to admit women as graduate students. The guidance emphasized in the request, which would be echoed as the process moved along, was that women would only be admitted

when, in the opinion of the sponsoring Division and of the Committee on Graduate Study, the applicant possesses exceptional qualifications for admission to graduate study and gives unusual promise of continuing scientific productivity.

Since the Committee on Graduate Study would be deciding on individual cases, Pauling requested that they also provide their opinion to the Faculty Board. Carl Niemann seconded Pauling’s request and it was passed without dissent, though some abstained. A month later, Pauling forwarded the division’s recommendation to the Faculty Board who quickly approved it. It would take until the end of spring for the Board of Trustees to also agree to admit women as graduate students.


Semenow’s next hurdle was for the faculty of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering to vote to admit her as a Ph.D. student. She cleared this hurdle by a vote of 17 to 3 in favor, with Donald Yost, Dan Campbell, and J. Holmes Sturdivant voting against. William Corcoran and B. H. Sage voted in the affirmative, but with the stipulation that Semenow be permitted entry as long as doing so not prevent a comparable male applicant from being admitted. An additional faculty member, William Lacey, voted in favor with the caveat that he was generally against the admission of women to Caltech, but thought that “since the Faculty voted to permit it, I believe that Miss Semenow’s case is a suitable one to try out on the Committee of Graduate Study.”

To get the Committee on Graduate Studies to approve Semenow, the division next had to prove that she was a promising student. Carl Niemann was asked to assist with this process and, in due course, met with Mary Sherrill, chair of Chemistry at Semenow’s undergraduate alma mater, Mount Holyoke College. Following this conversation, Niemann reported to Dean Lacey that “Miss Semenow has a genuine interest in chemistry as a profession and has every intent to continue in this field after receiving her Ph.D. degree.” This affirmation was enough to secure Semenow’s spot at Caltech.

With Semenow’s case decided, the Institute felt more free to admit other women as graduate students. In April 1954, the Committee on Graduate Study recommended that Estelle Maxine Fowler be admitted as a Ph.D. student in mathematics, and the following spring they approved Elizabeth K. Rosenthal for graduate study in biochemistry and Caroline S. Teichemann in aeronautics. It would take more than two decades for Caltech to take similar action on the undergraduate level — not until 1973 did a woman receive a bachelor’s degree from the Institute.


In 1955, just two years after being accepted, Dorothy Semenow completed her Ph.D. in chemistry and biology, becoming the first woman at Caltech to do so. Following that, Semenow opted to remain in Pasadena and attempted to continue her research without access to laboratory space.

As it turned out, this caused problems. In July 1957, Carl Niemann, writing as acting division chair, informed Semenow that she had been seen entering the division’s laboratories twice after hours with a key. Niemann asked Semenow to return her key and warned her that she could be arrested if she was caught again without the accompaniment of an authorized staff member. She was also warned that she was not to use the laboratory facilities under any conditions. Thus admonished, Semenow continued to push forward her research while staying out of trouble with the division.

In the years that followed, Semenow went on to earn another Ph.D., this one in psychology. She also continued to pursue chemical research, focusing on the molecular components of potential neurotransmitters of acetylcholine and norepinephrine, and often colloborating with her spouse, Donald Garwood, whom she met while at Caltech.

The couple reached out to Pauling in 1968 in hopes that he might help them to secure a research position at the University of California – San Diego, where he was working at the time. After looking over their research statements, Pauling’s colleague Robert Livingston judged that Semenow and Garwood’s work did not overlap sufficiently with the interests of UCSD’s Neuroscience department, and so ended the inquiry. This appears to have been Linus Pauling’s last major interaction with Dorothy Semenow, a pioneering figure in the history of the California Institute of Technology.

A Cold War Division Chair: The Church Laboratory and a Big Step Toward Pauling’s Post-War Plan

Linus Pauling, unidentified [Norman Church?] and George Beadle participating in what is believed to be a groundbreaking ceremony for the Church Laboratory, circa 1955

[Pauling as Administrator]

Though pressures related to his political activism began to pose more and more problems for Linus Pauling, he was largely able to maintain effectiveness in his position as Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology. Notably, in the midst of all the controversy, he was able to keep on track the planning for a new biochemical laboratory to be built on campus.

Plans for the new facility began to take shape in 1952, following a three-year fundraising effort. And as the architects started to work out the specifics of the new building, each research group within the division began to stake their claims to the amount of space they thought they needed.

Chief among these claimants was Pauling himself. With Dan Campbell, Pauling put in for 15,000 feet to be used by the immunochemistry group. A separate request for 12,000 square feet was also put forth by Pauling, joined this time by Robert Corey and the x-ray diffraction group. Both requests were double the space allocated to these activities in in the Crellin Lab. In addition, Pauling wanted an increase in his personal office and laboratory space, bumping up from 1,000 to 1,500 square feet. By comparison, Carl Niemann’s enzyme group was to receive 4,500 square feet and the analytical chemistry group would get 3,000.


At the end of August 1952, fundraising for the new building received a big boost when Caltech accepted $750,000 from a local businessman, Norman W. Church. The gift was large enough to pay for the shell of a 70,000 square foot biochemical laboratory, though not enough to connect the new laboratory to Crellin, as was the ambition. (Caltech thought that it could potentially cover the cost of doing so itself.) Estimates to complete the entire building ran to $1,400,000, with another $270,000 anticipated for furnishings. By the next May, as the Institute began accepting construction bids, those estimates rose to around $2 million to complete the main wing.

As the project advanced, it became clear that the funds on hand were not sufficient. In August 1953, J. Holmes Sturdivant, who was supervising the Biology component of the project, conveyed to Pauling the bad news that the project was short to the tune of $500,000. To make amends, Sturdivant felt it likely that the design would have to scrap two planned basements and not furnish the building as originally conceived.

Pauling appointed a committee to address this matter, and the committee concluded that the two basements were crucial to the project because the new facility would be too small to function effectively otherwise. The group further suggested that it was fine to keep portions of the building unfurnished at the outset — the basement was the priority. Pauling agreed, telling Caltech President Lee DuBridge that they could always raise more money to fully furnish the space later on.

Entrance to the Church Laboratory. Image credit: California Institute of Technology

Not merely interested in the internal layout of the new biochemical laboratory, Pauling also wanted to make a stylistic imprint on the building’s exterior. In his visits to England and France four years prior, Pauling toured many eleventh and twelfth century Norman churches and was impressed by the elaborate receding arched doorways – many of them decorated with depictions of spirits – that adorned these houses of worship.

Since the new Caltech building would be called the Norman W. Church Laboratory, Pauling thought it appropriate to similarly decorate its main entrance using depictions of bacterial cells, viruses, animals, molecular crystals, and scientific instruments. In the end though, this idea did not come to pass. Whether it was from lack of interest or lack of funds, the final building boasted a much less ornate entryway.


Linus Pauling and George Beadle, circa 1950s

In 1952, Warren Weaver, Director of Natural Sciences at the Rockefeller Foundation, informed George Beadle, who was the chair of Caltech’s Biology division, that the foundation planned to reduce its support for biological projects due to an increasing number of alternative funding sources that were becoming available. That said, Caltech would still be at the top of the foundation’s list for research funding requests of “a more general nature.”

Knowing full well that the Institute was nearing the end of a seven-year $700,000 Rockefeller grant covering biochemical research, Weaver told Beadle of the potential for a new $1 million allocation that could fund ten to twenty years of biochemistry research with additional money allocated for equipment. In his communications with DuBridge and Pauling, Beadle emphasized that “Weaver made it quite clear without saying so directly that we would not be left high and dry.”

That Weaver had communicated this possibility to Beadle rather than Pauling was perhaps a sign of Pauling’s decreasing involvement in higher levels of active leadership at Caltech since the end of the Second World War. But while he no longer appeared to take the lead, Pauling did maintain an important role in securing funding as head of his division. And as he worked to generate funds to broaden the divisions horizons, he continued to cling to the original post-war vision for biochemical medical research at Caltech that he had first formulated eight years earlier, a vision that had thus far received relatively minimal financial support.

In making their formal appeal to the Rockefeller Foundation for further funding, Pauling and Beadle first laid out the extant funding sources that were currently supporting their two divisions. They began by noting that the Institute itself provided $325,000 per year for chemistry and $250,000 for biology. Another $600,000 in soft money was also on hand, including $100,000 per budget cycle from the current Rockefeller grant. Finally, an additional $300,000 was channeled annually to the two units from endowment funds.

Some of those endowments came from individuals who had willed their estates to the Institute. In May 1952, Pauling wrote to Caltech trustee George E. Farrand to express his gratitude to a Mrs. Robinson who had left “the bulk of her estate” to Caltech for cancer research. In his note, Pauling touted the Institute as being the perfect place to conduct fundamental research that might supplement clinical trials going on elsewhere. But he hastened to add that these kinds of donations were not enough to sustain the levels of medical research that he and his colleagues thought possible.

As Pauling and Beadle crafted their pitch to the Rockefeller Foundation, they stressed that future support needed to be long-term – at least fifteen to twenty years – if they were going to attract tenured faculty capable of conducting world class research. Covering a time span of this length would require around $3 million and the duo requested that the foundation commit to providing half this total, with the other half to be raised by the Institute from other sources. With funding at this level on hand, and with endowment interest accruing, the two divisions would be able to spend, at most, $150,000 a year for a minimum of fourteen years.

Happily, the foundation agreed to Pauling and Beadle’s proposal, with the proviso that the Institute generate the matching funds within the next three years. This major commitment from a key external partner appeared to finally secure Pauling’s postwar plan for long-term biochemical research at Caltech.

A Cold War Division Chair: Pauling Under Investigation

[Pauling as Administrator]

As Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, Linus Pauling was obligated to deliver an annual report each year to Institute President Lee DuBridge. As he compiled these reports, Pauling solicited comments from members of the division that focused primarily on their research progress over the previous year.

In 1952, using the Division of Biology’s report as a model, Pauling added some specifics to his usual request for comment. This time around, he needed information about funding sources; a 100-500 word description of work completed that would be accessible to the general reader; and a list of awards received and publications authored. These extra details painted a generally positive portrait of the division, though they did not always reflect the budgetary strains being felt across the unit.

While Pauling oversaw an influx of funding that allowed the division to expand, the money on hand never seemed to be quite enough. As a result, Pauling needed to keep a close watch on the division’s budget, tracking staff salaries, fellowships, supplies, and special funds. In doing so, Pauling sometimes uncovered what appeared to be frivolous spending in unexpected places.

In 1951 for example, Pauling asked division staff to be careful about publishing in journals that charged page fees for article reprint orders. That year, Pauling noted, the division had spent $2,500 on reprints, including $700 for covers alone. Going forward, Pauling asked that, unless absolutely necessary, reprints be ordered without covers; a small sacrifice to conserve resources.


While modifying reprint ordering practices promised to save the division a bit of money, Pauling’s own activities outside of the division began to impact the division’s budget in a far more substantial way. By 1951, Pauling’s work as an anti-nuclear activist had been targeted for suspicion by external forces as well as Caltech’s own administration. That same year, a tangible outcome of this suspicion hit the division’s bottom line hard when the United States Public Health Service denied Pauling a $40,000 grant on the basis of his alleged communist ties.

Around this time, with Red Scare fears intensifying, Caltech decided that all individuals serving on the Institute’s Contracts Committee be required to pass a low-level security clearance, to be administered by the Industrial Employment Review Board (IERB). In part because it was meant to be a routine, low-stakes review, this directive was something that should have posed no complications for Pauling. However, problems did indeed arise after Pauling’s name was erroneously (and accidentally) included on a list of upper level administrators connected to Project Vista, a top secret hydrogen bomb research program with which Pauling, in actual fact, had no affiliation.

As a scientist, Pauling’s IERB case was to be evaluated by a military panel. At the beginning of August 1951, Pauling received notice from Lieutenant Colonel W. J. King that he had been denied a security clearance due to his being a “member of” and a “close associate” of the Communist Party since 1943. In backing this claim, King cited as evidence Pauling’s support of “known Communists,” a likely reference to the fundraising effort that Pauling had helped lead for Sidney Weinbaum’s defense the previous year. Pauling adamantly denied the charges, calling anyone who accused him of being a communist a “liar.” Pauling did concede that he may have defended communists in the past, but also maintained that he had the right to defend those who “deserve to be defended.”


King informed Pauling that he could submit evidence in his own defense before a final decision was made, at which point Pauling turned to his scientific colleagues, asking them to vouch for him through character reference letters. In making this appeal, Pauling sent out a form letter describing how he had signed the Espionage Act several times over the previous eleven years, a period during which he had carried out war work that made use of large amounts of classified information. The letter also stressed that Pauling wanted to continue working on similar research as a “service to the Government,” but that he would not be able to do so without approval from the IERB. The letter concluded with Pauling’s feeling that his own political actions to “help improve our national politics and to prevent and rectify injustices to individuals” should not be held against him.

One supporter, Frank Aydelotte of the Rhodes Scholarship Trust, told the IERB that Pauling was definitely not a communist. In his letter of reference, Aydelotte wrote

Professor Pauling is a liberal; he is a man of great personal courage who would not hesitate to defend anyone whom he believed to be the victim of injustice, but he is at the same time a man of complete integrity and proven loyalty to the United States Government.

But not all of the colleagues solicited by Pauling gave their unconditional support. One of them, Karl Compton, the Chairman of the Corporation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, asserted that Pauling’s scientific and personal character were admirable, but also pointed out that he had never spoken with Pauling about communism and so could not say whether or not Pauling was a communist.

Caltech President Lee DuBridge also agreed to write a letter of support for Pauling, but added that he was not surprised by the decision that the IERB had reached, an admission that shocked Pauling. For DuBridge, the issue was mostly a headache that he wanted settled “one way or another.” As Pauling’s activities had come under increasing scrutiny, some of the Institute’s trustees had threatened to leave the board, and DuBridge himself was in danger of being replaced if he could not find a way to keep Pauling in line.

By the end of September, it appeared that the letters of support had fallen on deaf ears when Pauling’s clearance was once again denied. Following Pauling’s immediate appeal, another month passed until the Project Vista clerical error came to light. And while this revelation led to a momentary lessening of tensions, problems related to Pauling’s public persona would only continue to interfere with his duties at Caltech and within his division.

A Cold War Division Chair: Political Activism and Institutional Pressure

Linus Pauling, 1950

[Pauling as Administrator]

Even before becoming Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, Linus Pauling had been viewed by some of his colleagues, particularly his predecessor A.A. Noyes, as being inclined to delegate responsibilities. This tendency became more evident following the conclusion of World War II, as the push to promote biochemical research within the division moved forward. While Pauling continued to steer the division toward a future focused intently on biochemistry – advocating for and securing funds to support biochemical medical research – he also began to withdraw from other duties, shifting some of them to his colleagues.

A significant factor behind the need to delegate was Pauling’s increasing involvement in peace activism and, particularly, his schedule of public speaking related to the use and testing of nuclear weapons. These activities ultimately brought Pauling before Caltech’s Board of Trustees, who contemplated his dismissal.


In 1949 the board communicated to Caltech President Lee DuBridge that public statements being made by Pauling on issues of peace and nuclear weapons were “damaging” to Caltech’s reputation. In response, Pauling is said to have “pledged” to DuBridge that he would cut back on his political activism, since he did not want his political views to interfere with his scientific work. President Truman’s decision to develop a hydrogen bomb the next year changed Pauling’s mind however, and he was again brought to the attention of Caltech’s leadership. This time, Pauling told DuBridge that he wished to speak with the trustees directly.

Meanwhile, the board had formed a committee made up of five trustees and five faculty members who were asked to determine whether or not Pauling should be dismissed from Caltech. In a statement dated July 14, 1950, Pauling expressed shock at having learned of this unexpected action by the trustees. In particular, Pauling’s tenure rank and hugely successful twenty-eight year career at Caltech had not prepared him for such an extreme possibility.

Three days later, on July 17, Pauling was given the chance to speak to the board and repeated to the trustees what he had earlier told DuBridge: he wanted to cut back on his political activities. But this ambition was couched, with Pauling noting that

I still propose to do this, at a rate determined by the world situation; however, I remain unwilling to pledge myself to cease all political activities.

Regardless, Pauling made it clear that he did not want to harm Caltech and would do “anything compatible with my conscience and my principles” to protect its reputation.


Sidney Weinbaum

In actual fact, Pauling did not believe that he was harming Caltech’s reputation at all. Rather, after surveying several colleagues and students who told him that his activities had caused no “appreciable damage” to them, Pauling concluded that he was actually helping the institution’s standing.

President DuBridge harbored a decidedly different point of view, informing the board that “many staff members” had told him that Pauling’s actions had “damaged them greatly.” These sentiments focused in particular on Pauling’s support for Sidney Weinbaum, a Russian émigré who became a United States citizen in 1927 and completed his Ph.D. at Caltech in 1933.

Weinbaum, who was Pauling’s research assistant in 1929, had been charged with being a communist, and his case eventually drew the FBI to Caltech. This led to Weinbaum’s removal, as a possible security risk, from his position at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1949. During his appeal, which was supported by Caltech, Weinbaum denied being a communist. The government subsequently dropped their previous allegations against Weinbaum in favor of new charges of perjury, for which he was arrested.

Pauling and Weinbaum were friends, so much so that the Paulings offered a room in their home to Weinbaum’s spouse following his arrest. Pauling also offered $2,000 for Weinbaum’s legal defense, and helped to raise more from other sources.

But DuBridge did not like the potential optics of the situation and suggested in particular that Pauling raise money by word of mouth, and not through the mail. An undated form letter authored by Pauling and five others, and appealing for money to support Weinbaum’s case, suggests that Pauling either ignored DuBridge’s advice or that DuBridge was trying to reel Pauling back in. Ultimately, Pauling’s efforts did not take, and Weinbaum was sentenced to four years in prison.


As the year moved forward, Pauling’s public persona continued to emerge as a source of concern for DuBridge and Caltech’s board. In October 1950, Pauling came under further scrutiny after being named by Senator Joseph McCarthy as a communist. McCarthy fanned the flames of this allegation by also defining Pauling as an atomic scientist who had received classified information from the Atomic Energy Commission as a result of his connections with the Guggenheim Foundation. The Senator was quick to add that the foundation was rumored to have “a flagrant record of giving fellowships to Communists.”

Responding internally, Pauling explained to Charles Newton, DuBridge’s assistant, that he was only on the Committee of Selection for the Guggenheim Foundation and could in no way be involved with the organization in the ways that McCarthy had suggested. Pauling added that McCarthy was likely targeting him for his peace work.

With interest in his politics hanging over his status at Caltech like a sword of Damocles, Pauling remained in the dark about any conclusions reached by the Board of Trustees’ select review committee, before which he had never been called to testify. Another twelve years would pass before DuBridge finally informed Pauling that the committee had recommended, in May 1952, that nothing be done to punish Pauling. Instead, the committee suggested that Pauling be continually pressed to end his political activities in order to forestall criticism of the Institute. And indeed, as time went on, the internal pressure on Pauling was increased.


Though Pauling’s political activism began to intrude more frequently on his daily responsibilities, he continued to take pride in heading Caltech’s chemistry division, which was racking up the successes. In 1950, Pauling reported to division staff that the Committee on Professional Training had given the chemistry program an overall grade of A, as well as A grades in physical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and analytic chemistry, with a lone B issued for organic chemistry. Pauling delighted in boasting of these types of accomplishments, and also continued to actively work with incoming students.

One such student, Fernando L. Carraro of Brazil, first wrote to Pauling in 1950, expressing an interest in Pauling’s research on antibodies. Over subsequent exchanges, it became clear that Carraro wanted to study with him at Caltech. In response, Pauling suggested that Carraro apply to the Institute in 1953, and that he also seek funding from the Guggenheim Fellowship for Latin American students. In the meantime, Carraro wanted to know what he should study, to which Pauling offered the idea of mathematics.

In providing guidance related to the Guggenheim fellowship, Pauling further suggested that Carraro could focus on the structure of proteins, the application of quantum mechanics to molecular structure, or the analysis of gas molecules by electron diffraction during his stint in Pasadena. Pauling also warned Carraro that he would likely not be given a graduate assistantship since he had not attended an American university.

Carraro’s fellowship was ultimately approved and he studied under Pauling from 1954 to 1955. Though a small story in the grand scheme of Pauling’s life, his interactions with this student from Brazil serve as evidence that, despite everything else that was vying for his attention, he continued to set aside time for those wishing to learn.

Chairing the Division After the War: Pauling Shifts His Focus to the Big Picture

Linus Pauling, 1949

[Pauling as Administrator]

As Chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, searching for funding and developing Division projects took up a lot of Linus Pauling’s time. On top of this, at the end of the Second World War, Pauling began to focus more intently on speaking to public audiences on the perils of nuclear weapons and the need to work for peace.

While these activities would eventually catch up with Pauling as a public figure, his colleagues at Caltech were already noticing that he was pulling back from some of his administrative responsibilities. Rodman Paul, who joined Caltech’s History department in 1947, later recalled that Pauling, by that time, had delegated oversight of day-to-day operations to Carl Niemann, and everyone at the Institute knew it.

At the end of 1947, Pauling set sail for England to begin a nine-month residency at Oxford, a move that further convinced some of Pauling’s colleagues that his main priorities no longer centered on chairing the Division. That year, Caltech colleagues John Kirkwood, George Beadle, and Holmes Sturdivant authored the Division’s ten year plan, passing it along to Pauling for his comments while he was overseas. After reading over the document, Pauling’s main suggestion was that the authors add as a possibility the creation of a nuclear chemistry program within the Division.

This suggestion was in keeping with Pauling’s attitude toward administrative work at that point: while his engagement with day-to-day affairs appeared to be fading, he remained passionate about his vision for the Division and for his profession as a whole, a vision that relied on dependable sources of funding.


Pauling served as President of the American Chemical Society in 1949, and in this capacity he penned an editorial for Chemical and Engineering News that bemoaned the lack of industry support for “pure chemistry” and other areas of “pure science.” This dearth of engagement had been felt in his own division and had slowed progress toward fulfilling his vision for fundamental research in biochemical medicine. Traditional sources of funding like endowments were not doing well at the time because of higher rates of inflation. And while other sources of support – including UNESCO fellowships and the newly formed National Science Foundation – had come online, their resources were not enough to make up the difference, since they only provided the minimum needed to keep research going.

While government entities, private endowments and foundations were capable of providing more, Pauling called out industry in particular, writing that

The industrial corporations, the chemical industries that depend upon fundamental science for their success, are, I believe, failing to do their part in the support of pure chemistry.

Pauling believed that the benefit that these companies received from basic research was such that they should fund up to 30% of the work being done – a number far higher than the 1% they did support – and that they should do so without placing restrictions on patenting or publication.

The editorial made an impact. In one instance, University of Chicago administrator Theodore Switz reported using the piece as a component of his fundraising campaign with chemical companies like Sinclair Refining. Another apparent response to Pauling’s call came from the DuPont Company. Over the previous three years, the company had funded a single postgraduate fellowship for a Ph.D. in chemistry at Caltech, providing $1,200 for a single man or $1,800 for a married man, with an additional $1,000 going directly to the Institute. After Pauling’s article was published, DuPont revised the annual donation to $10,000, made generally to the Division for distribution as it saw fit.

Caltech’s internal response to the evolving funding climate was to create a group called the Industrial Associates of the Institute. The first meeting of this collective, held in November 1950, brought in research executives and staff from companies like DuPont, Douglas Aircraft, Lockheed Aircraft, North American Aviation, Shell Development, Socoy-Vacuum, Magnolia Petroleum, General Petroleum, Union Oil, and Standard Oil. In the meeting, Caltech put forth a great many research areas where the interests of the Institute and industry might overlap. These areas included heat transfer in fluids, fluid mechanics, the influence of shock loading on design, soil mechanics and engineering structures, radioactive tracer usage, x-ray usage, and molecular structure influences on material properties.

Pauling never assumed a leading role in the association, but did take part in affiliated conferences, visited industry labs, and hosted industry guests in his own lab spaces. By 1957, Caltech President Lee DuBridge made a point of noting how successful the program had been in opening up communications between Caltech and industry.


As his focus turned increasingly towards bigger picture ideas, Pauling relied more and more on Division colleagues to keep the unit running on a daily basis. In the spring of 1949, Pauling asked Carl Niemann, Howard Lucas, and Laszlo Zechmeister to form a committee to recommend “likely young organic chemists” for permanent staff appointments, a shift from past practice where Pauling had often comprised a search committee of one. Even more broadly, two years later, Pauling asked the entire faculty in Chemistry to recommend a “young man” who could be appointed “in some field of work that is not strongly represented” in the Division.

Sometimes Pauling would reach outside his administrative unit to look for recommendations, as was the case in the winter of 1949. The previous fall, Pauling had made an internal announcement of the need to fill the physical chemistry vacancy created by the death of Roscoe Dickinson. Pauling had hoped that Michael Szwarc at Manchester would accept the position. Four months later, Pauling asked John Kirkwood, a Physics professor, to chair a committee on behalf of the Division and to make the appointment in physical chemistry. By then, Pauling had in mind Wilhelm Jost from Germany. Ultimately, both Szwarc and Jost remained in Europe.

As he had always done, Pauling continued to look out for the existing staff whom he had helped to shape, and worked to ensure that those whom he especially liked would stick around. In June 1946, Pauling offered an instructor position in chemistry to Norman Davidson, whose prior research had focused on molecular biology. It was Pauling’s hope that the instructorship would turn into a permanent tenured position at some point.

That point came closer in 1949, when Pauling recommended to his dean that Davidson be appointed Assistant Professor for two years as part of a general round of raises being considered for five chemistry professors. Pauling further asked that, within a year, Davidson be offered a permanent position within the Division. This all came to pass. Davidson received tenure in 1952, and spent the rest of his career at Caltech.


Not all of Pauling’s staffing decisions revolved around faculty and research; he was also interested in building up staff to support the work of others. One instance involved the possibility of hiring a chemistry librarian, an idea that Pauling first floated in the fall of 1949. After some discussion, it was decided that this position should be put on hold until a new facility was built — the chemistry library was split between two buildings at the time. The following year, Pauling signed off on library director Roger Stanton’s suggestion that chemistry and biology share a librarian. That never happened. Furthermore, it would be nearly twenty years until a new library facility was built at Caltech.

A new chemistry and biology building, however, would come sooner. Fundraising was well underway at the beginning of 1949, with Pauling reporting to the Division that they had already raised $700,000 toward their goal. Potential locations had also been identified, either near the north end of Crellin or by adding onto the Kerckhoff Laboratory. Pauling favored the latter, since an extension of this sort had always been envisioned for Kerckhoff. And as progress moved forward, a new truth about Pauling’s administrative work continued to take form. While it appeared to some that he was pulling back from his duties as division chair, he clearly retained an active interest in some of the details and all of the long-term objectives.

Chairing the Division After the War: Progress Toward Pauling’s Post-War Plan

Linus Pauling, 1947

[Pauling as Administrator]

In January 1946, Linus Pauling presented his plan for a joint research program to be shared between the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and the Division of Biology at the California Institute of Technology. Delivered for the third time to the Institute’s Board of Trustees, Pauling’s vision called for

an expansion of the work of these Divisions during the next fifteen or twenty years, in order that a very promising field of investigation intermediate between chemistry and biology may be cultivated; this field of investigation is also very closely related to medicine.

In putting forth these ideas, Pauling sought to build and expand upon previous research successes that had emerged from support provided by the Rockefeller Foundation.

In his talk, Pauling noted that the past two decades had brought about the development of immunochemistry, chemical genetics, and the use of radioactive tracers. These breakthroughs had made more feasible the potential determination of the “structure and nature” of substances smaller than the cell­­ – enzymes, proteins, genes, and viruses – that are not visible under a microscope. But determining these structures, Pauling told the board, would require

a considerable expansion in chemistry and biology, with the addition to the staff of specialists in fields such as enzyme chemistry, nucleic acid chemistry, microbiology, general physiology, and virology.

In making his argument, Pauling brought Rockefeller administrator Warren Weaver into the mix by sharing “that in his opinion there is no place in the world so well suited for this work as the California Institute of Technology.” If the trustees agreed to go along, Pauling believed that the program could potentially bring in as much as $6 million worth of Rockefeller support to split between divisions and enable the construction of two new buildings.

While he had faith that the Rockefeller Foundation would provide significant external funding for his plan, Pauling also had his eye on other sources. One noteworthy resource in this regard was E. K. Wickman of the Commonwealth Fund, whom Pauling queried about granting capacity at the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Wickman reviewed the foundation’s assets and earnings, and reported back that they likely had $10 million in their national reserves at the start of the year, and had since established a goal of raising another $25 million through their annual March of Dimes. Wickman added that this was a conservative estimate, and urged that

Considering that the National is now pricked by criticism for large accumulations, that it has just had fresh increases, and that as a relative newcomer in the philanthropic field it may want to establish a reputation in competition with the old foundations, you may well be coming to them at the right moment for a substantial grant.


Thus encouraged, Pauling, along with colleagues George Beadle and Alfred Sturtevant, drew up “A Proposed Program of Research on the Fundamental Problems of Biology and Medicine.” The proposal asked for $6 million over the next fifteen to twenty years and was submitted to the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. The overarching goal of the proposed program was to “uncover basic principles” in the biochemistry of medicine including the structure and mechanism of genes, a general understanding of viruses and antibodies, and the physiological basis of drugs. The authors also expected that plenty of practical discoveries would be made along the way.

The proposal placed special emphasis on the need to attract people trained in biology and medicine as graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. It pointed out that the number of graduate students working in the divisions authoring the proposal had dropped by more than twenty since the end of the war, a trend that would need to be stanched were the Institute to achieve new heights. Fortunately, at least in the authors’ views, Caltech was particularly well-positioned to support a new and ambitious program, one that would usher in “a period of great and fundamental progress, similar to that through which physics and chemistry have passed during the last thirty-five years.”


Once they had evaluated the proposal, the Rockefeller Foundation, as was their custom, asked for assurance that Caltech would continue to support biochemistry and biophysics with its own institutional resources. The foundation was also not prepared to support the construction of new buildings. (With this information in hand, Pauling and Beadle pressed Caltech President Lee DuBridge to earmark other Institute funds for constructing the new buildings.)

Ultimately the Rockefeller trustees agreed to provide a measure of support, but it fell far short of the proposal’s ambitious ask. A semiannual grant of $50,000 was allocated, to be paid out over seven years for a grand total of $700,000 in funding. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis also agreed to a partial measure: a five-year grant totaling $300,000.

Pauling, Beadle and Sturtevant were glad to have these pledges of support in hand and saw other routes to arriving at the $6 million original ask; among them a $2.3 million private bequest recently made to the Institute. With funding momentum gathering, Pauling decided that he would shorten his forthcoming Eastman residency at Oxford University so that he could devote more time to creating action items and managing budgets.


Once implemented, it did not take long for the new plan to show fruit. By 1947, Institute researchers had set upon an ambitious research agenda that included studies of the structure, composition and molecular weight of amino acids, peptides, proteins, and viruses; the chemistry of enzymes and nucleic acids; immunochemistry; serological genetics and embryology; chemical genetics; virology; and intermediary metabolism in plants and animals. Nascent and proposed research ideas also included electron microscopy studies of viruses and proteins; the chemistry of nucleic acids; and other topics in microbiology, physiology and biophysics.

And yet, despite the new money, adequate funding emerged as an uncertainty once news of a $240,000 budgeted shortfall began to circulate. As a corrective, the division started to look at other pots of money to cover the gap, including another large grant that had been promised by the Rockefeller Foundation, as well as smaller sources, like a $3,300 award that George Beadle had received from the Eli Lilly Company to work on the biosynthesis of vitamins. Certain funding lines however, including a five-year $75,000 grant that Pauling had secured in 1945 from Union Carbide to support fundamental research on the structure of metals and alloys, remained out of bounds.


The fresh funding coming in for biochemical work aligned nicely with President DuBridge’s emphasis on returning Caltech to its pre-war focus on fundamental research. A return of this sort was needed because the war years had pushed the Institute towards contract work that was funded by the government and private entities. These contracts were particularly attractive to faculty, as the deals often served as a source of extra income on top of their Caltech salaries.

Indeed, more money for individual use was becoming a necessity. Notably, a 1947 report commissioned by DuBridge showed that the cost of living in Pasadena had increased “well over 40 per cent” since the start of the decade. To keep pace with Harvard, Berkeley and MIT, Caltech would need to raise its salaries by 50% above 1940 levels, followed by an additional 75% increase over the next three years. At the time that the report was issued, Caltech had only boosted its salaries by 20% since the start of the war.

One solution that DuBridge found to address this problem that allowed him to also enforce Caltech’s existing restrictions on doing contract work, was to change the salary structure for faculty such that they were paid a twelve month salary at the same monthly rate as their nine month salary. In instituting this change, DuBridge effectively gave his faculty a raise that was equal to three months of pay.


In the meantime, Pauling continued to recruit new faculty into the Institute. He assisted E. C. Watson, Caltech’s Dean of Faculty, in looking for a mathematician and solid state physicist while he was in residency at Oxford. One name that Pauling put forth was Mary Cartwright of Cambridge, who had recently been named the first female fellow of the Royal Society and who came recommended as the “most outstanding younger mathematician in England.”

Pauling had less luck finding good physicists in England, but did recommend Clarence Zener of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Metals. The following month, Pauling suggested that Paul Dirac – then of the Institute for Advanced Study – be invited to Caltech, which Pauling felt he might consider for a professorship. Ultimately none of these suggestions worked out, but Pauling’s grander vision for post-war science at Caltech was unarguably moving forward.