Oregon State University Associate Professor of History Dr. Mina Carson is the third person this year to have presented work supported by the Resident Scholar Program at OSU Libraries. A professor of American Social and Cultural History, Carson’s research interests have thus far included the Progressive and New Deal eras, the gay and lesbian movements and the recent history of women in music. A licensed social worker, Dr. Carson has also written and lectured on the history of psychotherapy in western Europe and the United States.
Her latest project hits closer to home for those of us working in the Pauling collection: Dr. Carson is in the early stages of researching and writing the first full-length biography of Ava Helen Pauling.
As she is just six months into what promises to be a lengthy project, Dr. Carson has thus far focused on identifying a few important themes that seem to have, at least in part, defined Ava Helen Pauling’s remarkable life. Certain of these themes include
- Ava Helen’s transformation into feminism – Dr. Carson’s preliminary research indicates that Ava Helen was not initially what might now be defined as a “complete feminist.”
- The evolution of both Ava Helen and Linus from their early years as children reared in struggling single-parent homes, to a powerful couple who created a successful bourgeois household.
- The emergence, in her sixties, of Ava Helen as a charismatic force within the peace and women’s movements, a development which led her to question some the choices that she made earlier in life, especially as concerned her acceptance of a conventional gender role within her marriage and household.
- Ava Helen’s role in balancing the tensions that likely grew out of the pressures on Linus Pauling’s time, as peace activism began to envelop the scientific work that was his true professional love.
Dr. Carson’s Resident Scholar presentation also raised a number of questions about how one goes about writing a biography of a figure like Ava Helen Pauling. For one, there exists the temptation to write about Ava Helen chiefly as a means to shed further light on the life of Linus Pauling. However, Ava Helen was an important historical figure in her own right and deserves to be treated as such.
On the same token, any biography of Ava Helen must likewise be a biography of the Pauling family – her’s was the life of the activist and the homemaker intertwined – so the work needs to incorporate an evaluation her roles as center of the household, family administrator and social spark plug.
Last but not least, the biographer of Ava Helen Pauling must wrestle with the difficulties of both writing about a person who lived in recent time (Ava Helen died in 1981) and also of trying to get a handle on the basics of Linus Pauling’s extraordinarily complex professional vita.
As Dr. Carson herself attested, much work lies ahead for this project. We have no doubt, however, that the end result will constitute a major addition to what the chemist and historian Derek Davenport has termed “the Pauling canon.”
The Resident Scholar Program is generously supported by the Peter and Judith Freeman Fund. Previous Resident Scholars have included Dr. Burtron Davis of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research, and Toshihiro Higuchi of Georgetown University.