“I suppose that I am responsible to some degree for Linus’s deciding to put so much of his effort into peace activities. In talking with him, I said I thought that it was of course important that he do his scientific work. But if the world were destroyed, then that work would not be of any value — so he should take part of his time and devote it to peace work.”
– Ava Helen Pauling. Interview. June 1977.
Today marks the eighty-fifth wedding anniversary of Linus and Ava Helen Pauling. In honor of the occasion, we would like to briefly share the story of their meeting, courtship and marriage.
On January 6, 1922, Linus Pauling, still an undergraduate, entered a classroom as instructor rather than student. Oregon Agricultural College, now Oregon State University, had hired him to teach a freshman level chemistry course to a class of home economics majors. Thomas Hager, a Pauling biographer, tells us:
[H]e knew the best way to avoid any “boy professor” sniggering was to get right to the subject. This was the second term of a three-term course, and he decided to start by measuring the class’s basic knowledge. “Will you tell me all you know about ammonium hydroxide, Miss…” He ran his finger down the registration sheet, looking for a name he couldn’t possibly mispronounce. “Miss Miller?” He looked up and into the eyes of Ava Helen Miller. She was a small, delicate, strikingly pretty girl with long, dark hair. She was barely eighteen years old. She was a flirt. And, as it turned out, she knew quite a bit about ammonium hydroxide. (Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. 69.)
In the months that followed, a relationship between the two blossomed and, at the end of the term, Pauling asked Ava Helen to marry him. She accepted. That fall, Pauling departed for Caltech where he continued his education and served as a teaching assistant. The couple corresponded regularly, but the distance between them grew unbearable. Against the wishes of both mothers, they chose to cut their engagement short and marry in the spring of 1923.
To make the trip up from southern California for the ceremony, Pauling purchased a Model T Ford from Roscoe Dickinson, a Caltech professor, and headed north for Oregon. Unfortunately, Pauling’s driving experience was limited to just a few minutes of practice and, come nightfall, he crashed into a roadside pit in the Siskiyou Mountains, resulting in an injured leg and a wrecked car. After waiting all night for help, Pauling was able to get his car repaired and arrived at the wedding on time.
Over the next six decades, the couple only grew closer. Together they raised four children, were leading activists for world peace, and were extremely instrumental in the creation of legislation banning the above-ground testing of nuclear weapons. Despite the pressures of Pauling’s work and activism, the couple remained inseparable until Ava Helen’s death in 1981.
In interviews, Pauling often cited his wife’s intelligence, good sense, patience and kindness as the foundation for many of his greatest achievements.
A plaque now hangs in Education Hall Room 201 on the Oregon State University campus, marking the location where Ava Helen Miller and her future husband first met.
For further information, visit the Linus and Ava Helen Pauling Papers.