W.H. Freeman: The Man, His Company, and His Star Editor

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[Ed Note: In November and December 2017, we explored Linus Pauling’s connections with the publishing house W.H. Freeman & Co. as viewed through the lens of Pauling’s groundbreaking textbook, General Chemistry. Today we begin a new series that delves more deeply into that relationship, exploring Pauling’s interactions with Bill Freeman the man and W.H. Freeman the company. This is part 1 of 8.]

William Hazen Freeman, Jr. was born in New York state in March 1905. Though information about his early life is scant, we do know that his father, William Hazen Freeman, was a doctor who specialized in gastrointestinal issues. The younger Freeman attended Hamilton College in New York and graduated in 1926, a member of the same class as famed behaviorist B.F. Skinner.

Macmillan Publishing Company had already hired Freeman by the time of his graduation and, over the next few years, he rose to an editorial position within the company’s textbook department. In the midst of this, Freeman relocated to San Francisco, where he began work at the company’s newly opened satellite branch.

Not long after arriving on the West Coast, Freeman met with Linus Pauling for the first time. Macmillan was keen to publish a series of textbooks in chemistry, and Freeman felt that Pauling would be the ideal editor for such a series. Furthermore, Freeman saw any potential partnership as mutually beneficial: Macmillan would enlist the skill, expertise, and reputation of a prominent scientific figure who had built a strong reputation as a teacher and Pauling could use the association with a large publishing firm to develop his own series of textbooks.

Though Pauling couldn’t deny that this sounded appealing, he hesitated. For one, he disliked the idea that he wouldn’t retain authority over the direction of the series. Rather, Macmillan planned to select the books that would be published and then pass them on to Pauling for his input. Moreover, the publisher wanted Pauling to coordinate closely with a team of Macmillan editors throughout the process. The company also suggested that they would likely terminate the series after just a few years. Taking all of these factors into consideration, Pauling thanked Freeman for his time and declined the offer.

In 1941, when Pauling began circulating early drafts of General Chemistry, Freeman approached him again, this time to express Macmillan’s interest in the manuscript. Though Pauling chose not to publish with Macmillan, the two stayed in contact through the war years, even though Pauling had postponed work on all major writing projects.


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While Freeman was working in San Francisco, he met Verne Kopplin, a young lawyer who was specializing in tax law. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Kopplin was the 106th woman to practice law in the state. She subsequently passed the bar in Massachusetts and California, and was ultimately hired by the prestigious San Francisco firm of Rogers and Clark, which had previously abstained from employing women as attorneys. Indeed, by the time that she became involved with Freeman, Kopplin had already challenged discriminatory gender practices in three states.

Freeman and Kopplin married in 1946, the same year that W.H. Freeman & Company opened for business. In each other, they recognized a mutual determination to succeed, even if they had to challenge powerful institutions to do so. For Freeman, this ambition meant leaving Macmillan when it failed to show enough genuine interest in Pauling’s General Chemistry manuscript. Freeman also fiercely believed in small, independent presses and the importance of developing a trusting and intimate relationship between authors and publishers. He once remarked to illustrator Roger Hayward, with whom he shared a deep personal friendship for many years, that “the relationship between an author and a publisher is something like a marriage.”

Macmillan’s lackluster interest in Pauling’s text was indeed the spark that led Freeman to create his own publishing house, and it was a gamble that paid off. In 1947, W.H. Freeman & Co. published its first book, General Chemistry, now regarded to be a classic of the genre. That same year also brought success for Verne, as it marked the beginning of her practice at Rogers and Clark. She remained there for eight years before establishing her own practice. During her time in California, she also acted as a consultant for Freeman & Co., typically providing guidance on matters related to stockholders.


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Freeman set up shop on Market Street, a major San Francisco thoroughfare that promised high visibility for his fledgling company. Freeman’s boldness of vision matched well with the prominence of his chosen location. As he stated in his first corporate mission statement: “We say first of all that we want each book we publish to be something that hasn’t been done or that has not been well done.” As a first order of business in pursuing this objective, he revived the idea of a chemistry series for which Pauling would be the sole editor.

Once Pauling was officially on board, Freeman began sending his new editor several manuscripts each month, curating Pauling’s feedback about each submission’s potential for success. In addition to providing suggestions on whether or not a given book should be published, Pauling’s responsibilities as editor of the series also included bringing new manuscripts to Freeman’s attention. Once a proposal was accepted, Pauling provided further suggestions as the text went through the process of development. He did all of this while also writing and editing his own books.

Pauling was an exacting reader and often much sterner than Freeman in his evaluations. Indeed, he rejected most of the manuscripts that Freeman and, later, Stanley Schaefer sent to him. For one physical chemistry proposal that Pauling judged to be particularly poor, he told Freeman, “If you have any thought of publishing this, send it back to me and I’ll tear it to pieces for you.” Freeman replied sympathetically, noting that he found life as an editor to be mostly unsatisfactory, except in cases where he encountered writing like Pauling’s.

Those few manuscripts that did receive Pauling’s blessing were generally qualified with a long list of criticisms. For a general chemistry text authored by Arthur Campbell, Pauling sent four to five pages of revisions per single manuscript page — the book took several years to publish. It wasn’t Pauling’s intention to be unduly harsh. Rather, his thorough critiques reflected his steadfast commitment to improving the quality of scientific education. It was important to Pauling that his series only release texts that were current, unique, and highly effective. In this, he did much to reinforce Freeman’s mission statement.


However, as the 1950s moved forward and Pauling became busier, he found that there was far less time to devote to editorial responsibilities. By 1956, Freeman had become fairly concerned and, in one instance, he pressed Pauling to take a look at a book on hydrogen bonding. In doing so, he reiterated that, “I am very anxious to publish something worthwhile and of a specialized nature in your series, for it is not good to have your series show as little activity as it has.” Thus motivated, Pauling refocused his efforts and returned the manuscript a short while later, offering few critical comments.

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Roscoe Dickinson, 1923.

Though the series was overall a success, not every project worked out. One particularly tantalizing idea that Freeman put forth was for Pauling to collaborate with Caltech colleagues Richard Badger, David Shoemaker, and Stuart Bates to compile and contextualize a series of notes written by Roscoe Dickinson. (Pauling’s major professor and the first person to earn a Ph.D. from Caltech, Dickinson died in 1945 at the young age of 51.) Freeman’s idea came from requests that a book be written on Dickinson’s unpublished work in chemical thermodynamics. Unfortunately, the project never came to fruition for a number of reason, including lack of access to Dickinson’s papers.

Another possibility that went unrealized was an idea that Pauling flirted with from time to time: writing a high school textbook. Freeman successfully dissuaded Pauling from pursuing this notion by enlisting the help of his personal secretary, Margaret Cooper.

Freeman hired Cooper in 1953 and quickly came to respect her opinion on all sorts of matters. Based on her experience as a former high school teacher, she explained to Pauling and Freeman that the American education system had inadequately prepared high school students and instructors alike. In making this suggestion, she pointed out that, while a degree in education technically qualified individuals to teach all fields, in certain instances she felt that she had been forced to provide instruction in subjects for which she lacked the necessary skill set. This anecdote helped Freeman to convince Pauling that writing a text for high school students wasn’t a good use of his time as the content would too often fall upon deaf ears.

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But most of Freeman & Co.’s projects found a happy medium between the sensational success of General Chemistry and the trapped potential of the Dickinson text, and overall Bill Freeman was pleased by his company’s success. Notably, at the end of 1949, the publisher was able to put out its first catalog of books. Freeman was quick to point out that most publishing houses were “in the red” for their first five years, but this was not the case for Freeman & Co. Rather, after only three years, the firm had published eight titles and favorably impressed numerous colleges with their small but successful operation.


Outside of their professional association with each other, Pauling and Freeman also formed a close personal friendship. They visited one other as frequently as their busy schedules allowed, and their respective families also became close. In a letter to Pauling, Freeman remarked, “I gather that Lin [daughter Linda Freeman] fell in love with Crelly [son Crellin Pauling] even as Verne fell in love with Peter [son Peter Pauling]. I’ll have to watch the women in my family around your boys.”

(Like Pauling, Freeman had a daughter named Linda. He and Verne also had a son.)

Pauling’s immense faith in Freeman’s abilities matched Freeman’s deep respect for Pauling’s life and work. The two often brought potential projects to one other, with Freeman suggesting at one point that Pauling star in a series of instructional science films. Who knows? Had he taken Freeman’s suggestion to heart, Linus Pauling could have been the Bill Nye of the 1960s!

Dr. Edna Suárez-Díaz, Resident Scholar

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Dr. Edna Suárez-Díaz delivering her Resident Scholar lecture at the Valley Library, Oregon State University.

Dr. Edna Suárez-Díaz is the most recent individual to complete a term as resident scholar in the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center. A professor in the Department of Evolutionary Biology at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City, Suárez-Díaz is an accomplished scholar of molecular evolution and molecular disease who serves on the editorial boards of Osiris and Perspectives on Science, among other publications.

Dr. Suárez-Díaz’ current research focus is the geopolitics of disease with a particular interest in approaches taken toward blood diseases in the twentieth century. This project brought her to Corvallis to study components of the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, focusing on Linus Pauling’s work on sickle cell anemia.

Pauling is, of course, well known for his discovery that sickle cell anemia traces its origin to the molecular level, a concept first published in 1949 with Harvey Itano, S. J. Singer and Ibert Wells. As Suárez-Díaz noted in her resident scholar lecture, the group’s finding that the basis of a complex physiological disease could emerge from a simple change in a single molecule made a profound impact on the history of biomedicine. Indeed, it is not an overstatement to suggest that the concept of a molecular disease led to massive shifts in post-war research and public policy.

Importantly, these shifts were accompanied by technological breakthroughs that enabled many other laboratories to explore new ideas related to molecular disease. In particular, the modernization of gel electrophoresis techniques served to democratize research in a way that had previously not been possible. When the Pauling group was conducting their initial experiments, electrophoresis was a tool that lay within the grasp of only a handful of well-funded laboratories. As the equipment and methodology required to do this work became less expensive, practitioners around the world began to enter the field and the impact was profound.

Suárez-Díaz is particularly interested in blood diseases and malaria in developing countries, noting that these afflictions were to the “Third World” what cancer was for industrialized societies and the middle classes. It is important to note as well that there exists a strong connection between blood diseases (like sickle cell anemia) and malaria, as the mutations that gave rise to blood diseases also provide a certain degree of immunity to malaria. As such, the geographic distribution of blood diseases correlates closely with malaria epidemiology, a phenomenon that has had consequences for public health campaigns over time, including decisions to use DDT on a massive scale in attempting to eradicate the mosquitoes that carry the disease.

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Harvey Itano and Linus Pauling, ca. 1980s.

It is also interesting to chart Linus Pauling’s role – or lack thereof – in the further development of molecular disease as a field of study. Though he and three colleagues essentially created a new discipline with their 1949 paper, Pauling gradually became marginalized within the community, in part because he devoted so much of his time to political activism during the 1950s. His departure from Caltech in 1963 further distanced his scientific activities from what had, by then, become a truly international body of work.

As such, while undeniably important, Pauling’s contributions to the field might now be seen as one of many important nodes in a transnational network of scientists and practices. Moving forward, Suárez-Díaz’ work will continue to explore this transnational network, touching upon several other key issues including G6PD deficiency and the genetic consequences of atomic fallout.

Now in its eleventh year, the Resident Scholar Program at OSU Libraries has provided research support for more than two dozen visitors traveling from locations across the United States as well as international scholars from Germany, Brazil and, now, Mexico. New applications are generally accepted between January and April. To learn more, please see the Resident Scholar Program homepage.

Pauling’s “Immoral Man”: Nuclear Testing, the Nature of Leadership, and Letters to the Kennedys

[This is post 3 of 3 originally authored by SCARC Student Archivist Ethan Heusser for the Rare@OSU blog.]

For internationally renowned scientist and activist Linus Pauling, the early 1960s represented a time of feverish peace work that matched the dangers and necessities of an ever-escalating international crisis. One of the most interesting (and complicated) examples of his correspondence to world leaders during this time was to President John F. Kennedy.

Most of Pauling’s communications with JFK happened during his tenure as President of the United States between 1961-63. (Pauling, meanwhile, was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1963.) The topics of their letters varied widely between nuclear disarmament, nuclear test bans, international peace treaties, and even the Cuban Missile Crisis itself.

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Though Pauling’s letters frequently asserted an authoritative tone, the two did not always maintain the level of peership this might imply; many of Pauling’s letters went unanswered, and those that did get replies were sometimes written by others on Kennedy’s behalf.

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Pauling was often vehemently critical of President Kennedy’s policies and public relations efforts regarding the cold war and nuclear disarmament, attacking his moral character for failing to take strong enough action to de-escalate rising nuclear tension.

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It’s also worth noting that Ava Helen Pauling played a similar role in advocacy to the Kennedys; she wrote Mrs. Kennedy with a similar message about the threat of nuclear weapons, albeit focusing specifically on the impact this might have on her own children. The Paulings’ two-pronged approach is emblematic of their larger team effort.

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Nevertheless, Pauling’s lengthy diatribes and urgings to the Kennedys ended abruptly after the infamous assassination in 1963. Of particular significance is a brief letter written to the First Lady three days later, within which Pauling expresses remorse over the death “of our great President, John F. Kennedy.”

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The tone of that letter is hard to interpret due to its pithiness, but the typically stoic manner in which Pauling writes reveals here a brief moment of vulnerability. For all his “urgings” and his attacks on Kennedy’s moral character, Pauling clearly also had a certain amount of faith in Kennedy’s ability to listen to reason, make compassionate decisions, and lead the nation through moments of immense political pressure. Not only that, but as someone familiar with death threats due to activism, it’s hard to imagine Linus Pauling seeing November 22nd as anything other than a sobering and uncertain experience. The long and difficult relationship between them was snuffed out, but the legacy of the work, unfortunately, needed more than ever to be continued.

Way to Go Beavers!

Our beloved Beaver baseball team took home their third national championship yesterday. Oregon State’s most famous alum (though, to be fair, not known for his athletic prowess) would no doubt be proud. In both of their honor, we share this video snippet, one of our very favorites from the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers.

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Papers for Peace: Vietnam, Linus Pauling, and Thích Nhất Hạnh’s Burning Lotus

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[Ed Note: This is the second of three Pauling-related posts authored by SCARC Student Archivist Ethan Heusser for the Rare@OSU blog, which explores the rare book collections held in the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center.]

Though people often come to SCARC to access our collection of two-time Nobel laureate Linus Pauling’s documents and correspondence, an important but oft-overlooked part of the archive is his personal library. It contains an incredibly diverse amount of material, including history, fiction, science, psychology, drama, and activism. That last category is particularly important given Pauling’s shift toward peace and anti-nuclear activism in his mid-40s; a closer examination of the books in his library from that point onward offers a possible view of the mental landscape that gave his peace activism its sustained intensity.

One salient example is “Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire” by Buddhist monk and activist Thích Nhất Hạnh. Published in 1967, the book offers a piercing look into the real experience of Vietnamese people mid-crisis and how this commonly overlooked mindset contributed to the continually escalating Vietnam conflict.

It begins by discussing “the historical setting” of religion in Vietnam before quickly pivoting to the rise of communist-capitalist tensions as global powers began to get increasingly involved. Hanh uses this context to address inaccurate perceptions held by the American public about Vietnam’s cultural climate; for example, he demonstrates that the majority of NLF (National Liberation Front) soldiers were not in fact fighting for communism, but rather for the end of American occupation. In escalating the conflict for the sake of fighting communism, therefore, the U.S. occupying force only drove the people of Vietnam against it more.

Hanh also undermines the misconception that non-affiliated Vietnamese citizens helped the NLF because of coercion; rather, they assisted the NLF because of the promise of achieving national independence. (In his view, this perspective mainly developed due to the historical presence of French imperialism in Vietnam. He claims that people in Vietnam associate American presence with age-old French oppression, thereby carrying that anger and resentment directly over.)

“Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire” was published at a critical point in American history and in the history of the Vietnam conflict. It complicated the overly-simplistic narrative presented by American media, arguing that the best solution for Vietnam is a neutral one free from the control of both capitalist and communist superpowers. To Hanh, this neutral solution involves establishing an interim government truly representative of the people of Vietnam in order to conduct a free and fair election. He advocates for the emergence of engaged Buddhism as a necessary part of this change. (“Engaged Buddhism” was first coined by Hanh as a philosophy that asks Buddhists to use the principles of their faith to fight injustice and ameliorate inequity.)

There’s nothing out of the ordinary about the edition of “Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire” in our archives, but its presence in Pauling’s personal library can perhaps reveal some of the thoughts and ideas that inspired his anti-Vietnam War activism. Both Linus and Ava Pauling were strong public critics of the Johnson administration’s escalation in Vietnam – and books such as this make it easy to see why. Firsthand accounts from peace activists like Hanh make it difficult to interpret America’s role in the conflict as something other than immoral and ineffective.

It’s inaccurate to assume a person agrees with a book simply because it exists in one’s library – but taking this book in context of the tenor of Pauling’s larger collection as well as the vehement discourse he used in fighting for peace can perhaps shed some light on how the sharing of ideas from peace activists around the world allows for stronger resistance against global injustice.

One World Away: Kiang’s Great Unity and Pauling’s Press for Peace

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[Ed Note: With the conclusion of the academic year here at Oregon State University, we say goodbye to Student Archivist Ethan Heusser, who has written extensively on the Special Collections and Archives Research Center’s rare book collections at our sister blog, Rare@OSU. Today and over the next three weeks, we will share three Pauling-related posts that Ethan wrote over the course of his tenure working for us.]

Many Americans – and people around the globe – experienced the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s as an age of political uncertainty and social turmoil. It was a powerful time: everywhere the specter of disaster loomed, yet that fear brought with it a unique capacity for change enabled by commonplace desperation. In the United States alone, mounting resistance to the Vietnam War built confidence among grass-roots activist organizations for their efficacy in up-ending the status quo. And while mutually assured destruction terrified the world, the threat of nuclear war also inspired many thinkers and activists to strive for equally bold solutions. In the light of world chaos and potential mass destruction, the idea of building a global government and abolishing nationalism seemed especially promising – far more promising than what the United Nations seemed ultimately able to provide.

It’s no surprise, then, to see a large proliferation in world peace literature in the Cold War era. Some publications were mild and innocuous, but many took the form of bold declarations and manifestos about the urgent need for radical change.

An excellent example of the latter is One World: The Approach to Permanent Peace on Earth and the General Happiness of Mankind by John Kiang. Self-described as “a manifesto of revolution for world union with the evolutionary law of group expansion as a guiding theory,” it examines shifting technologies and living conditions to build a larger argument in favor of a unified humanity. From that perspective, nations and nation-states can only be seen as counter-productive: the deep-seated but fundamentally arbitrary veil of nationalism impedes sincere appeals to common humanity and mutual accountability.

Although the core text is fairly concise, this copy of One World is a scholarly edition from 1984, replete with extensive sources, commentary, and analysis:

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In this work we see the role that cultural context can play in international movements: though not explicitly outlined, One Worldcontains thematic and rhetorical ties to the utopic vision of “Great Unity” in China. Great Unity represents the goal of creating a Chinese society of mutual accountability and selflessness – a cohesive community where people work to help others rather than harm them.

First described in classic Chinese texts going back millennia, Great Unity was popularized by Sun Yat-Sen in the early 20th century. In doing so, it was used to help build a cultural momentum in favor of a shift towards a communist ideal. The Great Unity message was adopted overtly in China’s national anthem in 1937; though later supplanted with another song in the People’s Republic of China during the Chinese Civil War, it remains in use by Taiwan to this day.

John Kiang left China in 1949 in the wake of the earth-shattering Chinese Civil War. It seems fair to suggest that he nevertheless brought the culturally-specific vision of world peace, prosperity, and harmony with him stateside. It’s hard for those of us living in our countries of birth to imagine the inner turmoil he must have felt during that time, working for global peace a world away while his homeland was experiencing such complete upheaval and division. Perhaps that effort helped him, in some way, to bring his home with him and improve the world as a result.

These efforts manifested in One World. Though a relatively obscure book, One World at last found some degree of traction once it found its way into the hands of two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling – surprisingly, Pauling was willing to attach his name to it in the form of a guest introduction.

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As a famous peace activist, Pauling was a prime recipient of unsolicited manuscripts, book ideas, calls for action, and reference requests. But of all of the texts he received and was asked to endorse, why would he choose one such as this?

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A large factor was undoubtedly Kiang’s persistent correspondence with Pauling. He wrote with Pauling repeatedly between 1983-4, praising Pauling’s efforts and experience and asking for an introduction to One World. Pauling consistently refused, citing his lack of expertise in Kiang’s specific subject area. This pseudo-humble approach to refusing unsolicited (and often wacky) manuscripts was trademark for Pauling during his peak social activism years. Then, somehow, everything changed for One World. Somehow, Pauling changed his mind. We have as proof Pauling’s written introduction documented in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Collection, along with letters and cards from the Kiang family thanking him for his collaboration:

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Even when meticulously compiled and researched, correspondence collections can still resist post hoc scrutiny. We hold a substantial set of letters between the two activists, but we lack the connection point between the “before” and “after” of when Pauling agreed to add his name to Kiang’s One World project. Was it a letter that went missing? A phone call? An in-person visit? Kiang later sent Pauling a photo of a meeting between them, but the context for how and when it happened is largely absent.

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Another probable factor is that the content and message of the book aligned well with Pauling’s driving fears for the future. As Pauling writes in his introduction, “[Kiang’s] principal message is that war has now ruled itself out.” For Pauling, the atom bomb meant that “a war in which the existing nuclear weapons were used would with little doubt mean the end of our civilization, and possibly the end of the human race.” Perhaps that in itself built enough common ground between two men of different backgrounds and fields of expertise to collaborate – if only in a minor way – on what must have felt like a higher calling. (Pauling’s endorsement would be used in later work by John Kiang as well, but always from a distanced position.)

On a general level, One World embodies the slippery way that ideas persist, spread, and evolve. Just like how John Kiang built his own vision upon seeds planted by Sun Yat-Sen and many authors before him, it will be fascinating to witness how the Cold War push towards internationally-regulated peace and world government will rear its head again on the world stage in the decades to come.

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Pauling’s OSAC Honorary Doctorate

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Linus Pauling at Oregon State Agricultural College in June 1933. The 1933 commencement program stated that Pauling was “now acclaimed among the distinguished scientists of our time.” Included in the photograph (left to right) are Dr. Marvin Gordon Neale, Commencement speaker; David C. Henny, honorary degree recipient; Pauling; Dr. William J. Kerr, Chancellor of the Oregon State System of Higher Education and OSAC president from 1907-1932; and Charles A. Howard, honorary degree recipient.

[Ed Note: This weekend is commencement weekend at Oregon State University, and to mark the occasion we thought we would look back at Graduation Day 1933 at Oregon State Agricultural College, a commencement exercise distinguished by Linus Pauling’s receipt of an honorary doctorate from his undergraduate alma mater.]

The early years of Linus Pauling’s academic career were marked by a dizzying array of accomplishments. Offered an assistant professorship by Caltech at the conclusion of his graduate studies in 1927, he was promoted to full professor just four years later. And by 1933, he oversaw twice as many graduate students and post-doctoral fellows as any other professor at the Institute.

His Caltech salary also increased substantially during this time, the result of his having received numerous offers from other institutions trying to pry him away from Pasadena. Since he was usually asked to teach only one seminar per term, he was also left with plenty of time to conduct research, often as a visiting professor at nearby universities.

Perhaps most notably, he had also won the first ever Langmuir Award, granted in 1931 for his research in structural chemistry. A.C. Langmuir, the brother of Nobel chemist Irving Langmuir, established the award for “outstanding chemical research,” defined to be work of unique merit conducted by an individual in the beginning stages of their career. In granting the award to Pauling, A.C. Langmuir recognized Pauling to be a rising star and predicted that he would one day win the Nobel Prize. In many respects, the award launched Pauling into the public eye.

Around this time, Pauling gave a seminar at Caltech on the quantum mechanics of the chemical bond that famously baffled Albert Einstein, who was in attendance. Not long after, Pauling became the youngest individual ever invited to join the National Academy of Sciences. It is no wonder then that Caltech’s chemistry chief A.A. Noyes remarked that Pauling was “the most promising young man with whom I have had contact in my many years of teaching.”


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Pasadena Post, September 27, 1933

Where Pauling’s talent was coming to the attention of the broader scientific community in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Oregon State Agricultural College had recognized Pauling’s potential much earlier, during his years as an undergraduate. In May 1933, perhaps seeking to strike while the iron was hot, OSAC sent Pauling a telegram offering him an honorary doctorate of science, which would be his first. Despite the short notice, Pauling promptly and eagerly agreed to be present for the commencement ceremony, which would take place on June 5, 1933. Not long after, he hopped in his car and drove from Pasadena to Corvallis to partake in alumni events scheduled for the preceding weekend.

Recent changes at Pauling’s alma mater made this honorary degree all the more impressive. In 1932, the Oregon State Board of Higher Education established what was then called the Oregon State System of Higher Education to manage the affairs of colleges and universities in Oregon, an arrangement that remained in place for more than eighty years. Oregon State president William Jasper Kerr subsequently became the first chancellor of the system.

Over time, Oregon State University has both decentralized and simplified the process by which it decides to award honorary doctorates. In contrast, the decision to award Pauling his doctorate required the agreement of numerous individuals from the top of the system on down. Specifically, Pauling was recommended by the state system’s administrative council, approved by Chancellor Kerr, and endorsed by the board of higher education.


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Pauling was one of three alumni to receive an honorary degree from Oregon State Agricultural College that year. The others were David C. Henry, a consulting engineer in Portland who received his honorary doctorate of Engineering, and Charles Howard, the state superintendent of public institutions in Oregon, who received an honorary Doctorate of Education. Dr. Marvin Gorden Neale, president of the University of Idaho, gave the commencement address that afternoon. In his speech, delivered in the early years of the Depression, Neale spoke of the need to fight against critics of the education system and to work to insure that support for land grant colleges and universities didn’t slip away.

When the moment came to introduce Linus Pauling, William Jasper Kerr listed off a string of accomplishments amassed since Pauling’s 1922 graduation from Oregon Agricultural College. In addition to the Languir Prize and the National Academy of Sciences admission, Kerr also emphasized Pauling’s achievements during his two years as a Guggenheim fellow, his authorship of over fifty scientific articles, and his appointment as a full-time professor at Caltech.


The evening report published in the Corvallis Gazette-Times newspaper leaned heavily on Pauling’s local roots and agreed with others’ assessment that Pauling’s future was bright. The paper also reported that 486 degrees were conferred at the 1933 commencement: 418 bachelor’s degrees, 52 graduate degrees, and 13 pharmaceutical chemistry diplomas.

OSAC Executive Secretary W. A. Jensen wrote to Pauling following the ceremony to confide that his award had been one of the most heartily endorsed doctorates he could remember. He also conveyed the encouragement and approval of Pauling’s burgeoning career that had been relayed by many on campus. Jensen concluded his memo with an increasingly common idea: “The Nobel Prize is just ahead!”

When Science published news of Pauling’s accomplishment, Fred Allen, another Oregon State alumnus, wrote Pauling to congratulate him. In his letter, Allen joked

I am proud that our alma mater could break away from the precedent which has stumbling over one’s beard a prerequisite to an honorary degree.

Indeed, Pauling was only 32 when awarded his first honorary doctorate, just eleven years removed from his undergraduate program. The two other recipients of honorary degrees at the 1933 graduation ceremony were decades older than Pauling.

Pauling would ultimately accumulate 47 honorary degrees over the course of his lifetime. For a man of such decoration, it would seem fitting that his first honorary degree came from his alma mater, a school that encouraged his passion for science well before he became nationally recognized. The honor captured an important moment in Pauling’s career and provided a glimpse of what was to come.