Pauling’s Tumultuous Year as President of the American Chemical Society

[An analysis of Linus Pauling’s tenure as President of the ACS, published on the fifty-year anniversary of his holding the office. This is part 1 of 4.]

Linus Pauling was elected future president of the American Chemical Society in December 1947. In that capacity, he served as the society’s president-elect for 1948 – during which time he was living in England as a visiting professor at Oxford – and officially took up his post as president in 1949. He formally assumed office on January 1, 1949, with Ernest H. Volwiler serving as the president-elect for the year.

The news of Pauling’s election as ACS president was widely publicized in early 1948, with one short announcement reading:

Chemist’s Chief – Dr. Linus C. Pauling, chairman of the division of chemistry and chemical engineering at the California Institute of Technology, has been elected president of the American Chemical Society. One of the world’s leading theoretical chemists, he was chosen in a national mail ballot of the society’s 55,000 members.

This same account was used in multiple newspapers with only slight variations. Chemical and Engineering News, one of the ACS’s signature publications, released a slightly longer announcement in 1949 describing Pauling’s achievements in the field, including his academic positions past and present, and his laundry list of awards and honorary degrees.

News of his election was initially well-received by scientists both within the society and outside of it, and Pauling received letters of congratulation from many of his new constituents expressing their excitement at being led by a chemist of such high ability and international renown. However, as seemed to always be the case with Linus Pauling, his political stances quickly became a point of contention between himself and others within the ACS.

While many members wrote to Pauling expressing their joy at the election of a political liberal (one correspondent, Bernard L. Oser of Food Research Laboratories, Inc., wrote that “The ACS has done honor unto itself by handing the gavel to a great liberal as well as a great chemist”) a larger and more vocal group of society members quickly withdrew their support. Indeed, Pauling’s liberal politics and anti-war work would keep him under near-constant scrutiny for the duration of his presidential year.


Henry A. Wallace

In November 1948, near the end of Pauling’s stint as president-elect, the first of the political controversies arose. In this instance, the catalyst was a pamphlet featuring Pauling’s name at the top of a list of sponsors endorsing presidential candidate Henry Wallace. Wallace had served as vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt and ran in the 1948 election as the Progressive Party nominee.

When he learned of the pamphlet, Henry C. Wing, the chairman of the ACS Board of Directors, wrote a letter to Pauling reprimanding him for publicly supporting Wallace, who had been accused of displaying Communist sympathies. In the letter, Wing suggested that “…your action has impaired the high position of our Society in the eyes of Congress and the nation, as it is impossible for you to separate your actions as an individual from that of the President of the Society.” Wing then warned that “There can be no question concerning the loyalty to the United States of the vast majority of the members of the Society…” and notified Pauling that his behavior would be discussed at the next section meeting.

Other ACS members wrote to the Board expressing similar concerns. One member, R.H Sawyer, summed up the views of others in asserting that, although Pauling’s name on the pamphlet was in no way overtly connected to the ACS (his professional associations were not listed), it still reflected badly on the society to have its members endorsing such politics. Sawyer then theorized that perhaps Pauling’s name had been used without his consent and called upon Pauling to confirm or deny his endorsement of Wallace. “Should [Pauling] fail or refuse to do so,” Sawyer warned, “I call upon the American chemist to repudiate as a political crack-pot the man they have honored as a scientist by election to the office of President Elect of the American Chemical Society.”

A different ACS member, M.L. Crossley, offered a similar complaint, explaining that:

…I shudder to think of what some of the radio commentators may do with the information that the President of the American Chemical Society is a sponsor of the Wallace-Marcantonio brand of politics. I register now and ever the strongest protest against any action by an officer of the American Chemical Society which may be used to convey the impression that I as a scientist and a member of the American Chemical Society subscribe to such a brand of dangerous, fanatical philosophy of government. I am a true American, believing in the principles of the philosophy of our democracy which has made this country the greatest land of freedom and opportunity the world has ever known.

While Sawyer and Crossley wrote to members of the ACS administration, others chose to address Pauling directly. These letters of criticism complained about his political views and expressed surprise that a man as intelligent as himself would be so liberal. The correspondents also requested that he release a statement clarifying his political views, and some even called for his resignation as president-elect.

Dr. Louise Kelly was one such author, lamenting to Pauling that “Having in the past had a high regard for your intellectual ability…” she was appalled to receive the pamphlet and find out that he was a Wallace supporter. Kelly continued,

I can understand why certain types of individuals, whose mental processes (I refuse to employ the word “thinking”) are as confused as those of Mr. Wallace, have been converted into followers of his, but I am at a loss to comprehend your position.


Pauling did not deign to accommodate requests for his resignation or to issue a public statement on his views, but he did reply to the letters that were sent directly to him. Confident as ever, Pauling answered Dr. Kelly’s letter by requesting that she re-evaluate her refusal to use the word “thinking” in conjunction with Wallace supporters, writing “I assume that you consider me to be a reasonably clear-headed fellow.” He finished by assuring her that there was no need to be shocked and appalled – his political leanings had never been a secret, and he promised that “I haven’t changed much in recent years, except that my health is not so good as it once was, my hair is getting thin on top, and my social conscience has grown a great deal.”

Dr. Joel Hildebrand had also written directly to Pauling critiquing his political views, portraying Wallace as an idiot and a wannabe-dictator, and insulting Pauling’s intelligence for supporting him. Although Wallace ultimately accumulated just a small share of the popular vote in the 1948 election, Democrat Harry S. Truman’s victory over Thomas Dewey informed Pauling’s somewhat sarcastic response to Hildebrand. “The presidential election was great fun,” Pauling quipped. “I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed anything more than the upset of the Republicans.” Pauling concluded his letter by casually informing Hildebrand that Ava Helen had broken a bone in her ankle.

Although the ACS was officially a non-political organization, the bulk of its membership seems to have been politically conservative. The response that Pauling received to his endorsement of Henry Wallace is illustrative. In reality, Wallace’s platform was not Communist, but forward-thinking and focused on social justice. Wallace called Truman’s government war-mongering and hypocritical for pushing universal military training and a draft system while veterans returned from war were rendered homeless and unemployed. Wallace also believed that war profiteering on Wall Street was a source of the country’s increasing militarism. Wallace likewise viewed the Marshall Plan as a tool for the U.S. to cement political and economic control of Western Europe; he encouraged aid for Europe but wanted to work through the United Nations to insure that support was provided with “no political strings attached.”

Wallace campaigned for world peace and civil rights for minority communities, and his platform included calls for desegregation and anti-lynching laws, outlawing the poll-tax, and providing federal inspections of polling places to ensure fair voting conditions. He also pushed for a fair employment practices act, desegregation of the government and armed forces, and the withdrawal of federal aid from any institution engaging in discriminatory practices. He advocated for the end of Jim Crow legislation and sought to eliminate discrimination against African Americans, Jews, and “citizens of foreign descent.”


Pauling strongly believed that his actions as an individual remained separate from his role as ACS president so long as he did not leverage his position in order to support his political views. To this end, he made a point of not listing his academic or professional affiliations whenever he allowed his name to be used for political ends. He pointed out that he had never kept his views a secret and that his election had nothing to do with his politics.

In their exchange of letters, R.H. Sawyer retaliated that most of the society members who voted for Pauling would not have done so had they known of his political affiliations. Whether or not Sawyer was right, the Wallace affair was the first taste of a continuing conflict between Pauling and the ACS that would taint his entire presidential year.

Pauling’s OAC, 1919-1920: Social Life

“Feminine Section Intrafraternity Smoker,” 1919-1920. Linus Pauling is seated at front, far right.

[The third and final installment of our look at Linus Pauling’s experience of the 1919-1920 academic year at Oregon Agricultural College.]

Campus life during the 1919-1920 school year was generally more lighthearted than had been the case during the previous few years; a time period defined largely by the horrors of World War I. War-time bans on major social gathering were lifted, making way for near weekly dances and school-sanctioned social events for all students to attend.

A major point of emphasis to kick off the school year was Homecoming Weekend. Beginning with a parade and rally held on the night of Friday, October 24th, and continuing through a home football game versus Stanford on Saturday (a 14-6 loss for the Aggies) and a campus church service on Sunday, Homecoming was a festive occasion meant to built bridges between students, faculty, and alumni. Unfortunately for Linus Pauling, his obligations to the state highway department resulted in his arriving on campus two weeks after the celebrations were over.

While not a student during the 1919-1920 academic year, Pauling still lived at the Gamma Tau Beta house as a faculty member. This was a regular practice at the time, especially for those who were unmarried. Professors whose names now adorn buildings at Oregon State University – individuals including Ava Milam, Grant Covell, Richard Dearborn, and Samuel Graf – were all members of various Greek organizations on campus.

A major highlight of the school year for the Gamma Tau Beta fraternity was their annual house dance, held on February 3rd, 1920. The house hired the Duke Vaughn Jazz Band to provide the entertainment and hosted a variety of faculty, alumni and out-of-town guests in addition to current Aggies.


Gamma Tau Beta intramural baseball championship team, 1919-1920. Linus Pauling likely took this photo.

“Here’s to men we know and love, / Beavers tried and true; / Here’s to the men of the orange line / Wiping the ground with you; / Up with the glass and pledge them, lads, / Flashing its amber gleam, / While deep in our hearts the toast shall be: / Here’s to the Old O.A.C.”

-“Toast to the Team”

Sports played an outsized role in campus social life, and for those who didn’t compete on OAC’s varsity teams there were many opportunities to participate in intramural activities. Recognized today as the third oldest program in the country, intramural sports at OAC operated under the motto of “Everybody in Sports” and worked throughout the year to include the participation of as many male students as possible. Pauling’s fraternity, Gamma Tau Beta, was very successful athletically, winning the college’s baseball divisions in both fall and spring, and placing second in cross country.

Women’s intramurals were not as well developed at OAC, but the college did offer opportunities for female students to compete in basketball, field hockey, swimming, and tennis. Through the Women’s Athletic Association, women at OAC also had the chance to practice baseball, volleyball, archery, fencing, soccer, and hiking. Relatively few actual games were scheduled during the school year due to a lack of teams and fears related to the influenza outbreak.

Beyond sports, OAC’s students took advantage of access to a number of different recreational pastimes including The Mask and Dagger Dramatic Club, and the Glee and Madrigal Clubs. In the winter, Mask and Dagger joined forces with the Glee Club to produce the school play, “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Student publications were another way to get involved on campus, be it through The Barometer newspaper, The Beaver yearbook or school-aligned quarterlies like The Student Engineer and The Oregon Countryman.

Linus Pauling and Paul Emmett, 1920

The recreational group with which Pauling was most closely associated was the Triangular Debate team, which offered the school’s best speakers the chance to compete intercollegiately. While Pauling was not eligible to participate during the year, his close friend Paul Emmett did compete in two separate debates, while also serving as the Forensics Manager for the sophomore class, one year beneath him in standing.

Emmett’s first competition was against the University of Oregon, during which he represented the negative argument to “Resolved, that the principles of the Chinese Exclusion Act should be applied to all immigration to this country for a period of not less than five years.” Later in the year, Emmett competed against the University of Washington, once again representing the negative positing on “Resolved, that the peace conference should have awarded the province of Shantung to China.” After graduating from OAC, Emmett earned a Ph.D. from Caltech and went on to become one of the foremost catalysis chemists of the twentieth century.


Traditions, even in the relatively early years of OAC’s history, were extremely important. Freshmen – more commonly known as “rooks” – were required to don green caps (for boys) or green ribbons (for girls) when on campus. To enforce these and other rules, the sophomore class was charged with forming a Vigilance Committee, which could mete out demerits and other punishments – including paddlings – for violations that they observed.

Important traditions for the junior class, to which Pauling would have belonged had he been able to return as a student, included Junior Prom, Beaver Annual, and Junior Flunk Day. Junior Prom was held in the Men’s Gymnasium (present-day Langton Hall), which was decorated with orange and black crepe paper, and attended by many school faculty. Junior Flunk Day was devoted to games contested between and within classes, as well as pranks pulled by juniors on the unassuming.


Students working in Graf Hall, circa 1921

Students at OAC weren’t just busy playing intramural sports and attending school dances, many also maintained a keen interest in state politics. One continuing point of conversation was the fact that, in 1920, the U.S. dollar was worth approximately half as much as had been the case in 1913, yet all other university expenses had gone up. (Incomes had also risen a mere 4%.) During that same period of time, enrollment at Oregon’s primary institutions of higher learning – including the University of Oregon, Oregon Agricultural College, and Oregon State Normal School – had grown by 150% though classrooms had only barely increased in size.

As a potential corrective, students writing in The Barometer and elsewhere encouraged the citizenry to vote yes on the Higher Educational Tax Act, which would provide a boost in funding for the state’s colleges by increasing personal income taxes throughout Oregon. The measure passed in 1920, but was not enacted until the beginning of 1921.

In addition to stressing students’ budgets, funding woes for higher education in Oregon also hamstrung OAC’s ability to retain some of the temporary faculty that it had hired during the 1919-1920 school year, Linus Pauling among them. Fortunately, Pauling had built his savings up enough over the course of the year to re-enroll as a student for the fall 1920 quarter.

Retaining faculty was likewise encumbered at OAC by sub-standard facilities. The college was in especially dire need of a new auditorium as well as new Commerce, Home Economics, Pharmacy, and Engineering buildings. While a new engineering laboratory – present-day Graf Hall – began construction in November 1919 just off of Monroe Street, the other much needed buildings had to wait for several more years.

Pauling’s OAC, 1919-1920: The Campus Scene

A view of the OAC campus looking east toward Corvallis, circa 1920. At right is Science Hall, where Linus Pauling taught chemistry as an 18-year old instructor.

[A look back at Linus Pauling’s third year at Oregon Agricultural College. This is part 2 of 3.]

As we noted in our last post, Linus Pauling wasn’t able to register as a student for his third year at Oregon Agricultural College, and spent most of the academic year teaching instead. In not registering, Pauling was one fewer body contributing to what turned out to be OAC’s second largest enrollment ever — a whopping 4,086 students. This number was outpaced only by the 1914 school year’s 4,176 students, and was surely propped up by the return of many students from their wartime obligations. Notably, the college also welcomed twenty-four international students, many of whom came from Southeast Asia and were members of the school’s Filipino Club.

The boost in student numbers led to a pronounced insufficiency in faculty staffing, a circumstance that ultimately led to the 18-year old Pauling’s hire as a Chemistry instructor. The problems with meeting student needs in the classroom were widely acknowledged within the student body, as evidenced by many articles in the campus newspaper – The Barometer – demanding that the administration hire more instructors.

Of the total population of students, 3,073 were male and 1,013 were women, a set of numbers that presented a housing crisis for which the college was largely unprepared. Once OAC’s administrators realized that they did not have the infrastructure to house 500 more students than had been on campus the previous year, they requested support from the government to convert the school’s old ROTC barracks into a new male dormitory. This residence hall, which would be named Poling Hall, took a month to refashion into an acceptable livable facility. In the meantime, hundreds of young men were housed by the campus’ YMCA chapter.

Autochrome image of Waldo Hall with campus greenhouses in the background, circa 1920.

The college’s primary female residence hall also suffered from the increase in enrollment. During the year, more than 300 OAC co-eds crammed into Waldo Hall, the largest number since its construction in 1907. While Shepard and Cauthorn Halls were also used for female students, each one was overflowing with students.

Surrounding OAC was the small college town of Corvallis which, at about 6,500 inhabitants, was just barely bigger than the campus population.


Students who went to accredited Oregon high schools did not need to formally apply for admission to OAC. Instead, they were immediately accepted so long as they had completed three units of English and two units of mathematics. One result of this low bar to entry was that incoming students did not need to have a high school diploma in hand in order to begin as college students. Pauling, famously, did not graduate from Portland’s Washington High School before beginning his OAC studies at the age of 16.

Compared to the fifteen colleges that Oregon State University supports today, a century ago there were only eight academic schools available at OAC: Agriculture, Commerce, Engineering, Forestry, Home Economics, Mines, Pharmacy, and Vocational Education. The college was also very clear about its Land Grant point of view, stating in its general catalog that

Special attention is given to the application of science…while the industrial or technical work is emphasized, the importance of a thorough general training, of mind development, and of culture, is recognized in all the work at the institution.

Unsurprisingly, the most popular major at OAC was Agriculture (338), and the second most popular was Home Economics (314, likely all of whom were women). The School of Commerce also attracted many students, including both women and men pursuing the Secretarial Science curriculum that was housed within the school.

The 1920 Commencement ceremonies, held in the Men’s Gymnasium.

The cost of attending OAC ranged between $261-351. Tuition was free to all students, but many classes had fees tacked on, including a $24 charge for laboratory usage. If you wished to graduate during the school year, you were required to pay an additional $5 graduation fee as well as an extra dollar to cover the cost of binding your graduation thesis and printing your diploma. Room and board for eight months would run an $250 on average. While these costs seem very affordable today, the national income per capita in 1919 was only $3,724.05, rendering an advanced education unattainable for many.

Because of his own financial difficulties, Pauling was not in a position to take any courses during the 1919-1920 school year. In his first two years at OAC he had enjoyed physics, chemistry, mechanical drawing, and place surveying studies. Had he returned as a student, he would have taken mechanics, hydraulics, electrical machinery, engineering, geology, mining, and military tactics courses along with the other Chemical Engineering juniors studying in the School of Mines.


Ida Kidder in her wickermobile, 1920.

In February 1920, sad news sent the campus into a period of mourning when it was reported that OAC’s beloved librarian, Ida “Mother” Kidder had passed away at the age of 65. In the few months before her death, Kidder had been mostly bed-ridden, only capable of travelling around campus in a “wickermobile” cart that had been designed and built by students at the college. Though she had been at OAC for only twelve years, Kidder, who was the college’s first professional librarian, had made a great impression on the student body, and tributes were paid to her in numerous publications on campus and as far away as the Dishina School for Girls in Kyoto, Japan.

Though Kidder’s death was a major event at OAC, she could not be mourned at a public funeral or memorial service for nearly a month because the entire city of Corvallis had been placed under quarantine. Specifically, health authorities on campus had strictly banned all social gatherings that were not absolutely necessary as an outbreak of the flu had wreaked havoc on the community. Fortunately, the student body was not too drastically affected by the outbreak, with only a handful of intercollegiate basketball games being cancelled as a precautionary measure.

Machine gun training on the OAC campus, circa 1919.

And though the Great War had concluded the previous fall, military influence was still very prominent on campus. All male students were required to complete twelve credits of military training to graduate. If a student failed to enroll in military training over the course of a year, the remainder of their schedule was voided and they were fined until they began attending. But these formal strictures aside, it was clear that the environment on campus had changed from previous years, and nearly everyone was grateful to see the return of social events and other gatherings that had been banned during wartime.

Pauling’s OAC, 1919-1920: The Boy Professor

Paul Emmett and Linus Pauling, circa 1919

[Ed Note: Next week, school begins anew here at Oregon State University. And as has become tradition at around this time, we reflect back today on Linus Pauling’s attendance at Oregon Agricultural College one-hundred years ago. In this three-part series, we explore Pauling’s life and the culture of OAC during the 1919-1920 academic year.]

Linus Pauling began the summer of 1919 in a job he detested. Working 60 hours a week, Pauling held a position at Riverside Dairy that was responsible for “monitoring the quality of the bitumen-stone mixes” used in the company’s products. Exhausted and bored, Pauling started his search for a new summer job within only a couple of weeks.

Quickly he found a more desirable job with the Oregon State Highway Department working as a plant inspector at the Wolf Creek-Grave Creek section of the Pacific Highway. Importantly, the position allowed Pauling to work closely with chemicals, and once the new opportunity was confirmed, Pauling left the Riverside Dairy in favor of Josephine County, Oregon, where he would help to oversee the paving process.

The Grave Creek paving plant, 1919

As the end of summer neared, Pauling began to prepare himself to return to Oregon Agricultural College for his junior year as a Chemical Engineering student. However, he soon received devastating news: his mother, who as in dire financial straits, had used all of his savings to keep the family afloat in Portland, meaning that there was no money available to fund his continued schooling.

Defeated, Pauling continued his work as a plant inspector and, once September rolled around, he found himself debating paving techniques with other inspectors rather than attending classes in Corvallis. But even in these debates, Pauling relied upon his scientific training to put forth an informed argument and to contradict the conventional wisdom. Specifically, Pauling claimed that the state’s guidance to lay pavement at temperatures between 225-275 degrees Fahrenheit was not accurate enough; 275 degrees was, in Pauling’s view, necessary for the best outcome.


John Fulton, 1947. Also an OAC alum, Fulton served as chair of the Chemistry Department from 1907-1940.

Fortunately for Pauling, Oregon Agricultural College had seen an unprecedented growth in enrollment that fall and was now confronting a crisis as faculty struggled to meet the needs of a much larger student body. In late October, OAC Dean of Chemistry John Fulton reached out to Pauling – who was by then well-known to the faculty as being an exceptional talent – and offered him a position teaching analytical chemistry. Pauling was 18 years old at the time of the offer.

Though it would come with a $25 pay decrease to $100 per month, Pauling readily accepted the job, returning to campus on November 14 and officially beginning work as an instructor in Chemistry on November 20, 1919. Pauling’s personnel file indicates that this was not his first job within the Chemistry department – the previous academic year he had been employed as a student assistant, charged with mixing solutions for use in general chemistry laboratories.

Despite the pay decrease, Pauling found that his new job did come with a few perks. Nestled in Science Hall (present day Furman Hall) Pauling worked primarily on the second floor, which was dedicated to quantitative analysis, and was assigned his own office. He also enjoyed the services of his own assistant, a Mr. Douglas, who helped prepare solutions for the courses that Pauling instructed (the same job that Pauling had held the year before).

In winter 1920, his debut as a collegiate instructor, Pauling taught three courses: two sections of quantitative analysis for mining engineers, chemical engineers and pharmacy students; and one section of general chemistry for agriculture, home economics, and entry-level engineering students. The courses were listed as Chemistry 244 and Chemistry 102 respectively.  In these three classes combined, Pauling taught 83 students, one of whom was his close friend Paul Emmett, later to become an influential catalysis chemist. Emmett received an A in Pauling’s quantitative analysis course for chemical engineering and pharmacy students.

And as the year progressed, Dean Fulton and Pauling developed a consequential academic relationship and also a friendship. Importantly, it is likely that Fulton referred Pauling to a series of papers authored by Irving Langmuir and G.N. Lewis that became very influential in his later research. Following Pauling’s graduation from OAC, Fulton also supplied $100 and $200 loans to support Pauling’s research during his graduate school years at the California Institute of Technology.


With one term of instruction under his belt, Pauling’s horizons began to expand and his interest in the opportunities offered by an OAC education started to wither. In particular Pauling believed that the land grant curriculum put forth by OAC was lacking, particularly in its attention to theory, and increasingly he found himself drawn to Caltech and its new Gates Chemical Laboratory. As he considered a transfer, Pauling initiated a brief correspondence with Caltech’s Chemistry head A.A. Noyes, and he also secured a letter of recommendation from John Fulton. In the end though, Pauling was simply unable financially to commit to a move to southern California, and decided to stay on at OAC for another term as an instructor.

For spring term, Pauling was assigned two new courses: Chemistry 242 and Chemistry 245. Both were quantitative analysis surveys designed for engineering students and each included at least one lecture, one recitation, and anywhere from three to twelve hours of lab work per week. Each day of Pauling’s schedule had several morning hours blocked out for preparing and delivering the majority of his lectures.

View of the inside front cover of Pauling’s 1920 Quantitative Analysis notebook.

Pauling’s research notebook for that year – annotated with a hand-written “Keep Out! No Admittance” across the front cover – is riddled with student grades, calculations and notes on experimental methods. Pauling was compelled to consult this journal when, after finishing his position at the end of spring term and returning to his pavement inspector job, Dean Fulton contacted him at his Wolf Creek address. In his letter, Fulton requested that Pauling decipher some of the notes on quizzes that he had administered to his students during the previous term. Fulton also needed clarification on unknown solutions that he had produced and used during his classes.

Pauling’s appointment for the academic year ended in June 1920 and by June 11th, when OAC’s students were wrapping up their final examinations, “the boy professor” was returning to his position with the Oregon State Highway Department. He did so having also applied for a job as an assayer at Mountain Copper Company in Keswick, California, but he ultimately decided not to make the move so far south. During the summer months that followed, Pauling worked especially hard to accrue enough savings to support a true junior year at Oregon Agricultural College. Fortunately, he was able to do so and returned to campus the following fall, eager to begin classes after a one year hiatus.

The Lenin Peace Prize: Aftermath

Wire article published in the New York Daily News, April 17, 1970

[Part 2 of 2]

In June 1970, Linus Pauling accepted the International Lenin Peace Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples, an award bestowed by the Soviet Union in the spirit of forging unity with the United States. An acknowledgement of Pauling’s efforts to work towards world peace, the prize also served as a symbolic gesture for many people who were active in the global peace community.

Despite the high profile and prestige of the prize, only a small number of people were invited to attend the ceremony itself, which was held at the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C. But that did not mean that the prize went unnoticed, and Pauling received a great many letters of congratulation once word of his accomplishment began to receive media attention.

One such correspondent was Romesh Chandra, Secretary General of the World Peace Council, who, on April 17, sent a telegram expressing “hearty congratulations” and specifically recognizing Pauling’s “pioneering work and continued ceaseless action against United States aggression in Vietnam.” A day later, Nikolai Tikhonov, the chairman of the Soviet Peace Commission, wrote a similar telegram in which he commended Pauling for his “indefatigable activities for peace,” and his “courageous denouncements of militarism, especially […] against [the] shameful war in Vietnam.”

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling with Boris Davydov of the Second Department of the Soviet Embasy. Lenin Peace Prize ceremony event, June 15, 1970

That same day, Pauling received another telegram from the president of the Peace Council of the German Democratic Republic, Dr. Guenter Drefahl, congratulating Pauling for his “outstanding struggle for disarmament and peace.” And as the week moved forward the commendations continued to pour in. On April 20, a telegram from the Bulgarian Peace Committee offering their “warmest congratulations”; on April 21 a message from the Hungarian Peace Fighters sending their “appreciation” for Pauling’s work.

Gen. Hugh Hester

The majority of these letters received a warm, if somewhat standard reply. One exception was that of Pauling’s correspondence with a decorated U.S. Army Brigadier General, Hugh Hester. Perhaps because Hester was an outspoken critic of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, or maybe due to the high Army rank that Hester had attained before he retiring some twenty years prior, Pauling’s reply deviated from the standard acknowledgments that he afforded most others. Notably, Pauling took pains to express his feeling that “this is a terrible time for the world,” and his hope “that Nixon has finally gone too far, and that the Congress will succeed in stopping him.”


The rush of global praise brought about by Pauling’s receipt of the prize did not negate the complications of a somewhat curious incident that preceded the award ceremony. In addition to an engraved medal bearing the image of Vladimir Lenin in profile, the prize came with a 25,000 ruble honorarium. Because rubles were valueless outside of the Soviet Union at the time, an interesting investigation into how the monetary award could be converted into usable currency ensued.

The situation was eventually sorted out when Linda Kamb, Pauling’s daughter, visited the Soviet Embassy shortly before the award ceremony was to take place. Upon arriving, Linda spoke with Henry Kissinger, who was serving as the US National Security Advisor at the time, and who also happened to also be at the embassy that day. Linda met as well with the Soviet Ambassador to the United States.

In these conversations, Pauling’s daughter asked the two men about her father’s unusual problem of not being able to spend or use rubles, a circumstance that effectively rendered the cash prize as useless for non-Soviets. The two men subsequently conferred and decided that the prize money could be converted into US dollars at a rate of one ruble to $1.10, with the exchange happening within the embassy. This quote was apparently satisfactory, and a delve into Pauling’s financial documents for the year 1970 indicates that he did in fact utilize the currency conversion option that his daughter had investigated and communicated to him.

Pauling’s Receipt of the Lenin Peace Prize

Dmitry Skobeltsyn, Linus Pauling, Marilla [?] and Ava Helen Pauling, Lenin Prize ceremonies, June 15, 1970

[Part 1 of 2]

“Now is the time for us to change from our immoral course, from our dedication to the archaic institution of war, to a policy of peace and rationality and morality. I am confident that the Soviet Union would follow our lead, that the conduct of international affairs could be made to find the just solution of international problems, that we can achieve the goal of a world of justice and morality, a world in which the wealth of the world is used for the benefit of human beings, a world of freedom and dignity, a world of which our idealistic young people will be glad to be a part.”

–Concluding remarks of the first draft of Linus Pauling’s acceptance speech, written on the occasion of his receipt of the International Lenin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples, June 1970

On June 15, 1970, at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., Linus Pauling gave an acceptance address acknowledging his receipt of the 1968-69 International Lenin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples. Created in 1949, this award was originally named the International Stalin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples in honor of then Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. In 1956, three years after Stalin’s death, the prize was renamed by his successor as premier, Nikita Khrushchev. For most of its history, the prize was awarded annually to non-Soviet citizens who upheld the foundations of world peace. The award was discontinued following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

For Pauling, receiving the Lenin Prize represented, among other things, an opportunity to leverage attention toward his peace-oriented goals. Perhaps most notably, Pauling’s private correspondence reveals that when he heard that he was to receive the prize, his initial response was that he wanted the ceremony to be held at the United Nations building in New York. In a letter to the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Pauling wrote that he felt that the UN headquarters would be appropriate, “especially at this time, when the world is torn by wars and oppressed by militarism[.] [T]he symbolic significance of the presentation of this Peace Prize in the United Nations Headquarters could be very important.”

In addition to being appropriate on its own merits, Pauling also cited precedent in support of his suggestion. The opening ceremony of the 1965 International Convocation on the Requirements of Peace, he noted, was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions and held at the UN Headquarters. Mostly for these reasons, Pauling was convinced that the UN Secretary General, U Thant, would approve of his idea.

It is unclear why the ceremony was not held at the UN headquarters, and instead at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., but what is clear is that the ceremony was celebrated with much fanfare and adulation for Pauling and his accomplishments towards peace.


At the embassy, the Prize was given to Pauling by Soviet physicist and academician Dmitry V. Skobeltsyn, who addressed all in attendance with a warmhearted, “Comrade Ambassador, Dear Mr. and Mrs. Pauling, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends.” He then detailed the history of the prize, suggesting that it was established to support some of Lenin’s ideals, including his fight for “true brotherhood, equality, and freedom of peoples.” For Skobeltsyn, Pauling was the true embodiment of these ideals as well as an “ardent fighter for peace.”

Skobeltsyn continued that Pauling was receiving the award for his “personal merits in the struggle for peace and the contribution which is being made to the cause of defending peace by the wide movement of the progressive international community, and among them, by progressive circles in the United States.” He then pointed out that “Pauling is widely known in the world…as the name of an outstanding public figure who is ceaselessly struggling to ensure that the achievement of science serve the cause of peace and that the danger of [nuclear weapons’] use in a new destructive world war, which would threaten mankind with incalculable sufferings, be eliminated.”

From there, Skobeltsyn enumerated several of Pauling’s major peace-related accomplishments, including his 1957 petition to the United Nations “calling for an immediate conclusion of an international agreement banning the tests of nuclear bombs,” and his 1961 establishment (with the help of Ava Helen Pauling) of a conference against the spread of nuclear weapons. He concluded his remarks by expressing his hope that “friendly relations between Soviet and American peoples grow stronger and develop in the interest of peace.”

For his part, Pauling regarded the prize to be fitting and even serendipitous, noting that the day he had become aware of the honor in April 1970 was also the same day that the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks between the United States and Soviet Union had begun. Pauling then traced his work in attempting to end the arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States, and stressed that the beginnings of the SALT talks had marked a turning point in the trajectory of this work. For Pauling, it was a moment of optimism; the talks a source of “more hope on cutting down the armament burden than we have had for a long time.”

The reverse of the Pauling’s Lenin medal. The text reads: “For the Strengthening of Peace Among Peoples.”

Remembering Linus Pauling: The Biographers

A little more than six months after Linus Pauling died, a remarkable gathering took place at Oregon State University. A conference titled “The Life and Work of Linus Pauling: A Discourse on the Art of Biography,” was held in Corvallis over the course of three days and featured presentations by a great many individuals who knew Pauling or had studied his life closely. The keynote address was delivered by Francis Crick on the evening of February 28, 1995; the date that would have been Pauling’s 94th birthday. In the day and a half that followed, reflections were offered by a wide array of former students, family members, and scholars from across the country.

One particular session was devoted to “The Biographer’s Picture of Linus Pauling,” and it is to this set of reflections that we turn our attention today. Included below are observations made by four individuals who, by 1995, had already spent many years researching Pauling’s life and work, and whose insights serve to complicate and sophisticate the scholarly understanding of Pauling as a historical figure and as a human being.


Thomas Hager, author of Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1995).

Pauling’s father worked twelve hours a day as a druggist, teaching his son the value of both hard work and the importance of giving a good face to the public, and then died when Pauling was nine. The death of his father was a traumatic and defining event in Pauling’s life, one to which can be traced many of his emotional and intellectual characteristics. He spent a good deal of his life looking for surrogate fathers, father-figures that he at first found among his neighbors — one of whom got him interested in Greek; then his teachers — his high-school chemistry teacher was one; and later among men like Einstein, who served as Pauling’s political father.

It is this nine-year-old boy, bereft of a father, left in the care of a sickly and unloving mother, a mother who did not understand education or science, who constantly nagged her son, and who died in an insane asylum, who became Linus Pauling. It is this boy who developed a steely confidence in himself because no one around him had any. It is this boy, faced with a confusing and heartless world, who would spend his life trying to make sense of things, working to bring order and rationality into the world. It is this suffering boy whose guiding ethical principle was that of lessening suffering.


Ted Goertzel, co-author of Linus Pauling: A Life in Science and Politics (1995).

I believe that the personality patterns which Pauling displayed throughout his life developed in the period after his father’s death when he was nine. He never really allowed himself to express the pain which he felt after his grandfather’s and his father’s deaths, perhaps because his relationship with his mother was not close enough to give him a feeling of security. Her own depression and ill health, coupled with the unfamiliar practical problems of providing support for the family, made it difficult for Belle to be attentive to her son’s emotional needs. She was never as close to him as she was to her daughters. His father had admired him greatly, and encouraged his intellectuality. His mother, because of her illness and vulnerability as a widow, was not able to provide the same degree of support. […]

From nine onwards, Linus channeled his energies into his hobbies and into part-time jobs designed to contribute to the family’s expenses but also to give him a degree of independence from his mother. He was fascinated by the natural sciences, as are many boys of that age, and also discovered that he had a natural aptitude for academic work. He avoided close relationships with adults, whether teachers or relatives, but maintained friendships with other boys who shared his scientific interests and did not pressure him about family obligations.

The preoccupation with science may have had its origins at least in part in a need to sublimate emotional distress, but he was also good at it and realistic enough to recognize that scientific achievement could be an avenue to professional security as well as an absorbing escape from the rigors of everyday life. Whether through death, illness or insensitivity, adults had let him down. He was determined to make his way on his own.

By the age of twelve, Linus Pauling had already developed many of the behavior and personality patterns which he was to maintain throughout his life. He was introverted, intent on pursuing his own interests, and oblivious to conflicting demands from those around him. Emotionally, he was most comfortable when he could rely on a close relationship with one person for intimacy and support. The first special person was his boyhood friend Lloyd Jeffress, the second his wife Ava Helen Miller. His marriage to Ava Helen closely paralleled that of his own parents in its emphasis on closeness between the married couple having priority over parent-child relationships. It was a traditional marriage, with Ava Helen devoting her life to her husband’s career and nurturing their children.

He found that he could use his intellectual brilliance to maintain independence from her and obtain approval from others. He married a woman who gave him the devotion he was unable to get from his mother.

Despite his tremendous success as a young scientist, Linus Pauling was never satisfied. Having won two Nobel Prizes, he felt he deserved a third. When his brilliance as a scientific innovator declined with age, he fell more and more into his second intellectual style [becoming emotionally committed to his ideas and seeking out evidence to support them]. In his later years, his combativeness and defensiveness increasingly triumphed over his brilliance and creativity.


Derek Davenport, chemist and author of “Linus Pauling – Chemical Educator” (1980) and “Letters to F.J. Allen: An Informal Portrait of Linus Pauling” (1996) among other articles.

Pauling had agreed to speak at a G.N. Lewis symposium I had organized for the 1982 American Chemical Society meeting in Las Vegas. Ava Helen Pauling had died shortly before, and Pauling’s secretary called asking that I meet him at the airport. He arrived jaunty as ever and chattered amiably during the short journey to the hotel. We entered the Hilton which was full of gambling, even gamboling, chemists. As we moved to the reception desk the crowd parted and fell silent. It was rather like following Moses across the Red Sea. Linus told the young lady at the counter: “You should have a reservation for Pauling.” After finding the card, she asked sweetly “would that be a Linus Pauling?” “Yes, yes, Linus Pauling.” “How do you intend to pay, sir?” “By VISA card.” “I will need identification, sir.” Pauling was nonplussed. He put on one of his dopiest grins, turned to the silent throngs on the casino floor, threw his arms wide, and implored rather than asked: “Don’t I look like Linus Pauling?” The young lady was unimpressed and insisted on, and got, his driver’s license.

I tell this story for several reasons, but principally to remind us that it was only in later years that he became a legend in his own time and on occasion in his own mind. I first heard him speak in 1948 in London when he was approaching the zenith of his astonishing scientific accomplishments, and half of his long life was already spent. He was the most charismatic chemist I had ever heard but there was no sign of the guru and no evidence of groupies. These came later as a consequence of his political persecution and his advocacy of Vitamin C. We must remember he was a man who did legendary science long before he became the Pauling of legend.


Robert Paradowski, author of The Structural Chemistry of Linus Pauling (1972) and Pauling’s authorized biographer.

At an early stage of the writing of my biography of Pauling, I was having difficulty with what to do about what those close to him saw as his imperfections and failings, but whenever I brought these to his attention, he always defended himself adeptly and managed to mitigate their bite. As time went on, I began to wonder: Did he believe that all these criticisms from family, friends, and colleagues were wrong? So I asked him if he considered himself a saint. He said no, that he was very far from being a saint. I went on to ask what he considered to be his principal faults. He did not want to discuss them, fearing that, because of the subtlety and pervasiveness of human selfishness, the faults he did mention might conceal much deeper ones. I was impressed by his answer, which reminded me of the writings of such great saints as John of the Cross, who saw themselves in a never-ending struggle with their own great selfishness. If Pauling was unwilling to analyze his faults, he nevertheless expected critical analysis from his biographer. As he wrote to me in 1978: “There is no reason why statements critical of me should not be published.” He certainly did not like having his faults pointed out, but when these criticisms were reasonably and compassionately treated, he seemed to accept them, even finding them helpful at times.

A concrete example of these criticisms is Pauling’s egocentrism, which some found charming and others such a pervasive and corrupting part of his personality as to vitiate his worth as a good human being. An example of the first attitude was a member of the Linus Pauling Institute who told me that Pauling had the “knack” of turning whatever anyone said to him into himself in some way. If he could not do this, then he would quickly become bored and uninterested in the conversation. This observer assured me that he did not intend his remarks as a criticism of Pauling; they were simply a matter of objective description. To this person Pauling was, in his vanity, like a child, and no more to be condemned for it than a child would be. It was simply part of his nature, even part of his charm. Another person at the Institute once told me that the reason I got along so well with Pauling was that I was interested in a topic that utterly fascinated Pauling, namely, himself.

On the other hand, Pauling’s self-centeredness was not so attractive to other members of his Institute. One person, whom I interviewed after he had left the Institute, had become discouraged with his relationship with Pauling because he could not get Pauling interested in any of his ideas. According to him, Pauling would pay only perfunctory attention to what he was doing. He recalled that the only time Pauling grew animated in a conversation was when he mentioned molybdenite. Then Pauling’s interest was whetted, and this was, of course, because Pauling had written his first scientific paper on the crystal structure of molybdenite.