The Paulings Go to England, 1947-1948

Crellin Pauling on the Queen Mary, 1948.

[Ed Note: Throughout 2011 the Pauling Blog will be featuring stories of the Paulings’ travels around the world.  This is part 1 of 5 in a series exploring the Paulings’ time in England, where they lived and worked for parts of two years after the close of World War II.]

The Second World War had come to a close and Linus Pauling was in transition from his war-time work back to the regular goings-on at the California Institute of Technology when he received an enticing invitation. Frank Aydelotte, American Secretary for the Rhodes Scholarship Trust and director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (academic home of such greats as Albert Einstein), wrote Pauling in January of 1946 proposing his appointment as the George Eastman Visiting Professor at the University of Oxford for the coming academic year.

The appointment would include a Professorial Fellowship at Balliol College – among the oldest of Oxford’s thirty-eight colleges. It was an attractive offer; with only two or three lectures a week required of him, Pauling would have ample time to visit other European universities and steep in the vibrant culture of international chemistry.

Pauling felt deeply honored by the invitation and was anxious to return to Europe once more after his last visit in 1930. But the appointment would have to wait a year while he remained in Pasadena to develop the chemistry and biology programs at CIT and finish his freshman text, General Chemistry, published in 1947. After much correspondence between Aydelotte and Pauling it was decided in early 1947 that he would serve as Eastman Professor for the winter and spring terms of 1948.

Though the professorship was postponed, Linus and Ava Helen managed to squeeze in a visit to England and Switzerland in June and July of 1947 for a mix of vacation and conferences. As was typical, the Paulings were kept busy with a multitude of social affairs. But after much hustle and bustle in Cambridge, where Pauling received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Cambridge, and Oxford, where he made preparations for his coming professorship, some quiet days in London and Stockholm were found, which the couple “devoted exclusively to resting and sight-seeing.”

Pauling receiving an honorary doctorate of science from the Earl of Athlone, University of London. July 1947.

Pauling’s role at the forefront of American chemistry (he would learn right before embarking on his voyage in December 1947 that he had been chosen as President-Elect of the American Chemical Society) also garnered him a key place in chemical matters abroad, and his July was filled to the brim with meetings and conferences. After three days at the International Congress of Experimental Cytology in Stockholm, he returned to England for the International Congress of Pure and Applied Chemistry. This event coincided with the International Union of Chemistry, where Pauling presided as Congress Lecturer, as well as the Centenary Celebration of The Chemical Society at the University of London.

At the latter event, Pauling received another honorary degree and delivered an after-dinner speech on behalf of his fellow honorary graduates.  In it, he called scientists to action and leadership in ending war and expressed hope that soon there would be a “supra-national world government, and that we shall all be fellow citizens, citizens of the world.”


Their two-month escape primed the Paulings’ excitement for their extended stay the coming year. However, the planning for the upcoming trip proved to be almost as difficult as the initial decision of when to go.

With England in the beginning stages of recovery from the war, travel in the UK was less than ideal. Securing a house for the five Paulings proved such a difficult task that the entire trip was on the verge of being canceled a month before departure. Ultimately the family decided to make the sacrifice of staying in a hotel – Linton Lodge – for several weeks until a small flat was finally procured for them.

The strict food rationing implemented in England during wartime carried over into the post-war years and presented a challenge for Ava Helen in preparing the very strict low protein diet necessary for keeping the effects of her husband’s nephritis at bay. Linus Pauling’s doctor, Thomas Addis, even wrote to The Ration Board to ensure that the visiting scientist would be able to receive the forty grams of protein (from eggs, milk, cheese, cereals, vegetables and fruits – not meat, chicken or fish) required by his unique 2,500-3,000 calorie diet.

Indeed, Pauling left no stone unturned in his planning, even writing to a doctor friend for advice on preventing seasickness. Despite initial skepticism that schools would be found for the children over in England, Ava Helen managed to enroll nine-year-old Crellin in the Dragon School – where he was the best man in his form – and fifteen-year-old Linda in the Oxford High School for girls, of which she maintained fond memories of the navy blue uniforms and fit in quite well, aside from her difficult Latin classes. Peter Pauling had just started his first term at Caltech, but was able to keep up with his studies overseas by studying independently with tutoring from an American Rhodes Scholar. Linus Pauling, Jr had just married Anita Oser – the great-granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller and Cyrus Hall McCormick – and the young couple remained in the States while the family embarked on their adventure.

Linus, Peter, Crellin, Linda and Ava Helen Pauling, 1947.

The excitement started for the Pauling children before they even boarded the Queen Mary and set sail for England on December 26.  During the holiday period, New York City was experiencing its worst snowstorm in years and it was the first time the three sunny California natives had seen the snow. Despite the marvels of the winter wonderland, the family really was stuck, and it was only by a stroke of luck (and some extra cash up front) that the Paulings were able to convince a taxi driver to push his way through to the docks and get them to their ship on time. They celebrated New Year’s Eve on the boat and in an interview Linda recalled that the members of the Canadian Ski Team, who were also on the same Atlantic voyage, were dancing with her all night – that is, until they found out that she was only 14!

Linus Pauling must have spent some time during the journey across the sea in introspective thought, for it was during this trip that he wrote his famous pledge, on the back of a piece of cardboard announcing one of his lectures: “I hereby make avowal that from this day henceforth I shall include mention of world peace in every lecture and address that I give.”  This pledge was just the first of many important moments in Pauling’s life that would occur as a result of his time in England.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: