Pauling’s Final Libel Suits


Editorial cartoon published by the Anti-Communist League of York County.

Linus Pauling’s tendency toward litigation during the 1960s has been well-documented on our blog. As a central figure in the debate over nuclear weapons testing, Pauling was considered by many to be an important advocate for world peace, while many others called him out as a subversive communist. Pauling’s reputation clearly suffered due to the negative press he received, and over the first half of the decade, he decided to combat these attacks through libel suits against conservative presses and other groups that had published defamatory articles against him.

The last three of these cases were filed against the Anti-Communist League of York County, Nevadans On Guard, and the Australian Consolidated Press. These cases all ended poorly for Pauling, a trend that defined much of his litigation. Indeed, out of eight cases that Pauling mounted, he only won two, and they were the two earliest cases.


Excerpt from the Anti-Communist League of York County pamphlet that prompted legal action by Linus Pauling.

In May 1962, Charles M. Gitt, the president of the Gazette and Daily, two local York County, Pennsylvania newspapers, notified Pauling about a pamphlet that had been distributed by the Anti-Communist League of York County. The pamphlet consisted of an article titled “Brainwashed at Home by the Gazette and Daily” that theorized

To carry out this brainwashing job, the Gazette and Daily makes use of the following top Communists and sympathizers: Linus C. Pauling, an identified Communist, frequently is quoted on the front page of the Gazette, concerning his distorted views of the effects of nuclear fallout. According to H.C.U.A., he has a history of cooperation with Communist causes. To trust Pauling’s predictions on fallout is to trust the goat in the cabbage patch….The above radicals have much longer pro-Communist and outright subversive histories, but space will not permit a full account.

Pauling quickly responded to Gitt, writing “My attorney tells me that the phrase ‘an identified Communist,’ and the reference to ‘outright subversive histories’ are libelous.” Gitt agreed and encouraged Pauling to sue.

In June 1962, Pauling wrote to an area lawyer, Henry Sawyer of Philadelphia, inquiring into his willingness to serve as his counsel. In this initial letter, he put forth the gist of his complaint against the Anti-Communist League of York County.

The description of me is, in my opinion, defamatory, libelous, and grossly damaging to me. My textbooks of chemistry are used in the State of Pennsylvania and in adjacent states, and the dissemination of defamatory material of this sort may well cause me financial loss….You can understand why I feel that it is necessary for me to protect my reputation in the Philadelphia area, against an attack of this sort….I must tell you that at the present time I am involved in three libel suits, and have just brought a fourth to its termination. The one that was settled was against the Bellingham Publishing Company, Bellingham, Washington. It was settled by payment of the sum of $16,000 to my wife and me.

Pauling and Sawyer were aware that Pauling had only about a 50-50 chance of winning and, were he to win, it was likely that the damages received would be modest as the York County group was quite small and lacked significant funding. But at the time, Pauling was more interested in proving his point and casting a warning to others who might entertain the idea of publishing similarly defamatory articles. In the end, Pauling decided to sue the Anti-Communist League and its backers for $100,000, knowing that a payday of this magnitude was very unlikely to come to pass.

Once notified of Pauling’s suit, the Anti-Communist League did everything in its power to delay court proceedings as long as possible. This tactic paid off when, in 1964, a landmark Supreme Court Case, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, was decided. The verdict handed down by the high court in this case set a stiff standard for proving libel against public figures and rendered Pauling’s case virtually unwinnable.

Though their hopes of victory were greatly reduced, Pauling and his team moved forward with the York litigation and finally received a pre-trial conference in the summer of 1965. The judge at the conference stated that the case clearly fell within the purview of the New York Times ruling, just like nearly all Pauling’s libel suits. Furthermore, none of the defendants really had any money. Ultimately, a lone defendant offered to settle for $2,000 and Pauling decided to accept the offer. Nonetheless, the damages received represented a clear loss for Pauling, as his legal fees had far exceeded $2,000 by this time. In May 1966, the case was finally dismissed in entirety.


Comments by Dr. Detar, a potential defendant in the Nevadans on Guard suit.

On October 26, 1963, a small newspaper, Nevadans On Guard, published an article about Pauling bearing the headline “American Communist Given Nobel Prize.” Upon learning of this, Pauling decided to sue Nevadans On Guard, as well as the DeTar family, the Schaefer family, and possibly others responsible for defaming Pauling in the area.

In January 1964, Nevada attorney Charles Springer agreed to take on the case. The following March, Pauling lost his case against the St. Louis Globe Democrat at the same time that many of his other legal proceedings were not going as well as expected.

Charles Springer was also the State Chairman of the Democratic party in Nevada, so he was quite busy. This need to juggle obligations delayed the filing of Pauling’s suit until 1965. After that point, no additional records about the Nevadans On Guard case remain extant in Pauling’s records. One might reasonably speculate that Pauling decided against going forward with the case since he was already embroiled in so many other losing battles.


The Bulletin publication that prompted legal action in Australia.

In the Fall of 1964, the Paulings visited Australia to participate in the Australian Conference for International Cooperation and Disarmament. While in Sydney, Ava Helen Pauling was handled a leaflet excerpted from an Australian magazine, The Bulletin, that had been published on October 24, 1964. The leaflet consisted an article titled “But Not Dr. Pauling” that implied that Pauling was a liar and a communist sympathizer. After a bit of investigating, Pauling learned that The Bulletin was owned by Australian Consolidated Press, Ltd., which stood by its article and expressed no fear at the prospect of legal action.

Regardless, Pauling’s lawyers thought he had a good chance of winning until June 1965 when, in a lengthy letter, his lawyers outlined an array of pitfalls, mostly having to do with public perception. Pauling’s primary lawyer in Australia, E. J. Kirby, began by stating of the leaflet’s author

One gets the impression of a writer who is not exact or careful, and who wished to make the most biting, extravagant attack, either because he felt you would not hit back, or because he wished deliberately to provoke you to it.

From there, Kirby outlined his view of what the jury’s reactions to the case might be, detail by detail. Specifically, he felt that the jury might be influenced by the defense to think that Pauling was indeed associated with communists, simply due to the large number of Pauling’s acquaintances that would be called into question. Even if Pauling’s counsel proved that each and every one was not a communist, “Unfair as you may think it, they may come to believe that where there is so much smoke there must be some fire.”

Furthermore, though Kirby thought it likely that the jury would understand that Pauling was himself not a communist and did love the US, “we think that the jury may well be convinced, finally, just as the Senate Committee [Senate Internal Security Subcommittee] was convinced, that you have allowed yourself to be used by Communists, and Communist-front organizations, that you have been drawn into their orbit, as it were, and have to some extent become influenced by their ways of thinking.”

Kirby then pointed out that Pauling had made the deliberate decision to be more critical of the US than of the Soviet Union because he believed that it was his duty as a citizen and that he wished to serve as a model of diplomacy among nations. Though Pauling had claimed on many occasions that he did not know anything about communism or communist fronts, few juries were likely to prove overly sympathetic, given Pauling’s long history as an activist.

In view of these headwinds, Kirby advised his client that success seemed unlikely.

On the whole, therefore, we have very reluctantly come to the conclusion that what the Senate had to say in its Report, and even what the “Bulletin” had to say in its article, could be regarded by a jury as being to an extent justified in the practical sense, by the facts. In so regarding the Senate Report and the “Bulletin” article a jury, you may say, would be acting in an unjustified fashion, yet this we think is what one must do in the ordinary affairs of life, and what we believe the jury may well do in your case, however much the Judge may direct them on these points of evidence to the contrary.

Indeed, the situation looked bleak. “We now have some reservations as to the defamatory matter itself,” Kirby wrote, “[and] we have formed the view that it could well be held to be justified in part.”

A with the York County case, the issue of money emerged as an additional complication. As Kirby explained “Our Supreme Court delivered itself of a judgement in what we call the Uren case, to the effect that a plaintiff is entitled only to compensatory damages, and not to punitive or exemplary damages.” Kirby estimated that a trial would take anywhere from six to eight weeks and that the total cost to Pauling, if he lost, would amount to £10,859.10. Likewise, the total cost if he won was estimated at £954.12. Either way, Pauling stood to lose monetarily with the possible outcome of a fantastic financial loss should the case not go his way.

After reading this letter, Pauling understandably decided not to continue with the Australia case and, by September 1966, it was formally concluded.

That same year, Pauling lost his appeal in the St. Louis Globe Democrat case. Pauling’s final libel suit, bitterly contested against the National Review, took two more years to conclude, and it too ended in defeat for Pauling. Hampered by a Supreme Court decision that came about in the midst of his most litigious period, Pauling’s legal war against the press cost him a great deal personally and monetarily, and won him little.

The Bellingham Suit


From the years 1960 to 1968, Linus Pauling either threatened or actually instigated several libel suits against various newspapers and media outlets throughout the country, demanding retractions and financial compensation for defamatory statements issued about him. The damaging statements usually stemmed from Pauling’s hearings before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in 1960, during which the inquisitors grilled Pauling about his activities in the peace movement, especially his 1958 nuclear bomb test petition, and repeatedly implied that he was a communist sympathizer.

Pauling was not a communist and, in fact, had led a large research effort on behalf of the U.S. war effort during World War II, work for which he earned several commendations, including the Presidential Medal for Merit. So naturally, Pauling was very frustrated when newspapers around the country began to question his loyalty to the US, and he became increasingly alarmed as his reputation was attacked amidst the heightened tensions of the Cold War era.

One of the first newspapers to provoke legal action from Pauling was the Bellingham, [Washington] Herald. In late November and early December 1960, shortly before and after Pauling gave a talk at Western Washington College, the paper published five letters to the editor attacking Pauling. The letters contained factually incorrect information, such as the suggestion that Pauling had appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (rather than the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee) and that he was a communist. The letters also accused him of other communist-related activity that had never been proven by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee.

In early December, Pauling wrote to the newspaper demanding a retraction of the letters that it had published. The Herald responded quickly, printing a note explaining that they were “unable to substantiate the claims” of one letter published on December 2nd by Martin Gegnor.  That stated, the editors ended their note by declaring that “it is the policy of this newspaper to give free expression to our readers.” They likewise noted that the Herald, in its December 2nd issue, had also printed a long letter from the wife of the president of Western Washington College extolling Pauling’s scientific achievements.

Pauling was not satisfied with the Herald’s response and wrote a second letter to the paper that was published on December 20th. This letter went to great pains to point out how each defamatory statement issued about him was untrue. Although the Herald published Pauling’s letter, they did so while emphasizing that it was his viewpoint and that the paper did not explicitly apologize for its previous actions. This upset Pauling, who suspected that Martin Gegnor was not actually an ordinary resident of Bellingham, Washington but was instead a pen name for another author, possibly a journalist at the newspaper. (A suspicion that was, many years later, proven correct.)


Pauling decided to sue the Bellingham Publishing Company and the letter writers for libel. He later dropped his case against the individuals and decided to focus entirely on the newspaper, which he sued for $500,000. Pauling complained that the allegations in the letters were untrue and that he had no communist tendencies. He also claimed that damages to his reputation might result in the loss of royalties from his three textbooks, which amounted at the time to about $40,000 per year.

In December 1961, the judge overseeing the suit ordered Pauling to release the names of the people who had helped to circulate his nuclear bomb test petition. This very information had been requested of Pauling by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in the summer of 1960. Rising contempt of Congress, Pauling had refused to turn it over, fearing that the reputations of his associates would be smeared once their names came to light. This time around, Pauling looked to his Seattle-based lawyer, Francis Hoague, for advice. Hoague replied

It seems to me that you face a dilemma. On one hand, if you dismiss your action against the Bellingham Publishing Company the same ploy will be used in all three remaining libel actions [since instigated by Pauling]. Furthermore, this successful defense to this libel action might lay you open to a rash of defamation, since the defamers would know that they had a defense to any suit brought by you. Also, your dropping of this action, and I assume of the other three actions, would be used by certain columnists to indicate your admission of the truth of the accusations.

Pauling decided to disclose the names of his fellow petitioners, in spite of his desire to protect them from potential federal investigation. The list totaled about 650 names, including approximately 450 Americans.


Page 1 of Pauling’s list of those who helped to circulate the bomb test petition.

In January 1962, before the case came to trial, Pauling offered the Bellingham Publishing Company a settlement: $75,000 in damages plus a retraction. After negotiating for four months, the parties agreed to a penalty of $16,000 plus a retraction. The settlement was likely close to what Pauling would have received through the full prosecution of a successful suit. The outcome also allowed him to spend less in legal fees, and was hoped to deter other news sources from libelous actions of a similar nature.

The Bellingham Herald published its retraction in May 1962, writing

In late November and early December, 1960…this paper published in its Letters to the Editor column five letters in which the writers attacked Dr. Pauling. These letters contained untrue statements which, if believed, would have reflected on Dr. Pauling’s integrity and loyalty to the United States of America. These defamatory letters were published in error in reliance upon the writers, without investigation by the paper. The Herald takes this opportunity to state publicly that it regrets that it published these statements reflecting on the integrity and loyalty of Dr. Pauling.

Three years later, in April 1965, Francis Hoague, Pauling’s Bellingham case lawyer, wrote a letter to him noting the impact that the suit had made in the community. In his observation

Up until the time when you sued the Bellingham Herald, the John Birch Society had a firm grip on city and school affairs in Bellingham and virtually no one dared to challenge them…Your suit was the turning point in this matter, and since then the John Birch Society has had relatively little influence and can be quickly and effectively challenged when necessary. Even the Bellingham Herald has shown a change of heart in liberal matters…so your efforts in that respect were not in vain.

Thirteen years after that, Pauling engaged in a conversation that makes for a compelling coda to the Bellingham story.  In a note to self dated February 27, 1978, he wrote

Mrs. Helen Mazur talked to me today. Her husband is Professor of Demography in Western Washington University, Bellingham….

She and her husband arrived at Bellingham just at the time that I came to give the Commencement lecture.  We learned when we arrived there that some derogatory material had appeared in the Bellingham Herald. I sued, and the case was settled out of court with payment of $15,000 [sic] to me.

Mrs. Mazur said that when she arrived in Bellingham just at that time she met the president of the local bank. For some reason that she does not understand he began talking to her about me, and said that he had gone to the editor of the newspaper to suggest that something be done. She says that he said that he and the editor had written a letter attacking me, which was then published in the Bellingham Herald. It was this letter, with a false name and address, that was the basis of my suit. She also said that the newspaper borrowed the $15,000 from the banker’s bank in order to make the payment to me. I had not known that the newspaper editor and the banker had conspired to write this letter.


Travels in the Soviet Union: Some Background

[Part 1 of 3]

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling traveled to the Soviet Union six times between the years 1957 and 1985. For the most part, Linus Pauling’s relationship with the Soviet Union was steeped in science, but he did speak on peace issues and the need to cease nuclear tests during his travels through the USSR.

Unlike many of his peers, Pauling did not see the Soviet Union purely as a threat, but chose to view it instead as a potential, and vital, partner in peace. Likewise, most of the Soviet scientists with whom he interacted were viewed as having pure motives for advancing their research agendas. Unfortunately, Pauling’s cordial relations with contacts in the Soviet Union caused others in the United States to be suspicious of his own true motives and political affiliation during the decades of the Cold War.

For those inclined to criticize Pauling, one group that raised eyebrows was the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship, of which Pauling was a member. For his part, Pauling affiliated with the group out of hope that it might live up to its name. Specifically, in a letter to the Council, Pauling expressed his desire that the council assist in establishing scientific links, particularly with respect to chemistry and medicine, between the Soviet Union and the United States. He believed that, above all else, the two countries needed to cooperate and ultimately desired to see an exchange of professors and students between the USSR and the US in near the future.

Pauling was also invited to attend the meetings of the Russian-American Club of Los Angeles. At one such gathering, in November 1945, he delivered a speech encouraging that the two countries work together in order to attain peace between all nations. Pauling likewise participated in events sponsored by Progressive Citizens of America, a group considered by some to be communist.

Generally speaking, Pauling was not one to take fright at the specter of communism. Whether or not this meant that he agreed with communist ideals was a matter of continuing debate during his life. A reasonable assessment might be that he had a very tolerant outlook of it all, truly believing that communism was not anything to be worried about; that it was just a set of ideals holding sway in another country and that those views should not affect scientific or diplomatic relationships between the United States and the Soviet Union. He was not naïve though. He was well aware that Moscow was not an innocent player on the world stage. Indeed, he believed them to be recalcitrant, but thought if the United States were to take the first step towards initiating peace, only good could result.

At home, these ideals only served to grow others’ suspicion of him. The start of the 1950s brought about the first wave of false claims being levied against Pauling and the sharpening of the FBI’s keen eye upon his activities. Newspapers would declare that he participated in communist activities and in 1955 declarations were made against him, especially by Louis F. Budenz, that he was a concealed communist. This charge in particular bolstered his FBI file, causing him to be watched and investigated for connection to any activities that may remotely have been related to communism.

On June 20, 1952, Linus Pauling officially denied Communist Party membership. Despite this denial, the FBI still maintained a close record of his associations, investigating and attempting to interpret his activities. Despite this, the Bureau had trouble finding current sources that would identify Pauling as a past or present Communist Party member. Effectively, the investigators were operating off of the testimony given by Budenz – a former Communist Party functionary – that Pauling was a concealed communist. Budenz also claimed that Pauling made monetary contributions to the party even though he was not openly a member. Pauling denied these allegations, stating that he was not a member and not a contributor, but was an advocate for the inclusion of Soviet scientists in international conferences and symposia. In the climate of the time, even this level of support was grounds for reprimand.

Another action that contributed to suspicion of Pauling was his appeal to the White House for the commutation of the death sentences handed down to Julius and Ethel Rosenburg. Pauling was keenly interested in the Rosenberg case and read widely of the details underlying their sentencing. His actions on their behalf were based in his analysis of these details, an analysis that led him to conclude that the death sentences were extreme and unjust. But no matter the reason, these sorts of actions made it difficult for him to convince others of his trustworthiness and his lack of association with the Communist Party. When he did give anti-communist statements in his speeches and talks, they were branded as being too weak.

The pressures on Pauling built up to the point where traveling overseas became extremely difficult. He was famously forced to issue an oath that he was not a communist in order to receive a limited passport to travel to England in 1952. Institutions also began to reject his affiliation with them, including the University of Hawaii, which rescinded its invitation to Pauling that he speak at a building dedication in 1951.

Eventually the climate of fear that permeated the Red Scare began to fade and it grew easier for Pauling to travel and to issue opinions on the Soviet Union that strayed from mainstream orthodoxy. Finally, in 1957, he made his first trip to the USSR where he was at last able to meet with many of the scientists whose right to participate in international meetings he had advocated over the much of the previous decade.

Spitzer: The Aftermath

Ralph Spitzer.

[Part 3 of 3]

Following the dismissal of both Ralph Spitzer and L. R. La Vallee, one newspaper described Oregon State College as “a battle ground” for the heavily debated topic of academic freedom. The newspaper explained that in the minds of many people, any alliance with the party of Henry Wallace was synonymous with being a communist.

Meanwhile, OSC President August Strand’s vague rationale for having dismissed Spitzer and Strand continued in his address to the college’s Faculty Committee.  In this talk, dated February 23, 1949, Strand hinted through his word choice that the duo’s discharge was politically based.

Specifically, Strand said that Spitzer’s dismissal was not motivated by his Progressive Party membership, but rather because he had followed the Communist party line through his support of an untenable scientific thesis, the Lysenko theory of genetics, which de-emphasizes the role that genetics plays in heredity and, in simple terms, suggests that environmental factors are more prone to shaping individual characteristics. While Lysenko’s work was focused mainly on agriculture, the Soviet apparatus used his thinking to forward the notion that life in a socialist state might cleanse the proletariat of certain bourgeois tendencies.

In his speech Strand also touched on the question of academic freedom, while at the same time asking a question of his own: “how about freedom from party line compulsion?”

The Oregon State College Daily Barometer, February 24, 1949.

Strand’s evidence for his assault on Spitzer’s alleged Lysenkoism was a letter published by Spitzer in Chemical and Engineering News in response to an H. J. Muller editorial claiming that science was being destroyed in the Soviet Union. Strand felt that the letter demonstrated Spitzer’s support for Lysenko, in deference to what he must have known to be scientific truth.

For his part, Spitzer found it ridiculous that he was being labeled a communist just for arguing on behalf of a Soviet scientific theory. He also felt that Strand’s statement proved that his dismissal was based on political grounds and was a clear infringement of academic freedom.

In a one-page typewritten statement, Spitzer made his case:

I did not support Lysenko in my letter; in any case, it is absurd to reason that agreement with a Soviet scientific theory is evidence of adherence to a party line….I did not stir up controversy, but rather commented on an editorial on Soviet genetics. The editorial was by a chemist, in a chemical journal, and was discussed by two other chemists in the same issue.

On February 28, 1949, five days after the President’s address, Linus Pauling wrote a letter to  Strand, stating that he was “greatly disturbed” by the failure to continue the appointment of Dr.  Spitzer. Pauling wrote not only as a friend of Spitzer’s, but as a graduate of OSC, as president of the American Chemical Society (which declined to intervene in the case) and as a man involved in the educational system. Pauling also felt that it was his duty as an American citizen to take an active interest in politics and that Spitzer had a similar right and duty. Pauling concluded by urging Strand to reconsider his actions.

Pauling received a response from Strand on March 4, stating that the letter written by Spitzer in Chemical and Engineering News “showed beyond question that he was devoted to Communist party policy regardless of evident truth.” Strand continued, “How far need we go in the name of academic freedom? How stupid need we be and just how much impudence do we have to stand for to please the pundits of dialectical materialism?” Strand concluded by stating

If by this action, Oregon State College has lost your respect and support, all I can say is that your price is too high.  We’ll have to get along without your aid.

Pauling’s letter, as well as Strand’s stern response, were both published in the OSC newspaper, The Daily Barometer, and later reprinted in Chemical and Engineering News, but no direct action was taken.

Author Suzanne Clark, in her book Cold Warriors: Manliness on Trial in the Rhetoric of the West, wrote of what followed.

Spitzer defended himself vigorously, if with a degree of innocence about the growing power of those who would finally be enlisted to anticommunism. He pointed out that cases such as his own served to damage academic freedom in hundreds of invisible ways as faculty members learned to be afraid. Spitzer immediately turned to the AAUP on campus, which declared itself without jurisdiction, and asked the Appeals Committee of the OSC Faculty Council to investigate. He made four points: the head of the chemistry department was not consulted; the acting head had no complaints about his work; he had been promised a leave for a fellowship; and he had been promoted to associate professor.

But Spitzer’s attempts to save his job did not bear fruit. In a report on the Spitzer and La Vallee cases issued by the Faculty Committee on Reviews and Appeals, it was revealed that the desirability of reappointing Dr. Spitzer or of granting him a leave of absence during 1949-1950 had been questioned the previous October. Likewise, the decision not to tender reappointment was a culmination of various consultations on departmental, school, and institutional levels extending over the preceding several months, none of which officially pertained to political party affiliation. The committee concluded that President Strand acted entirely within his administrative rights and in the discharge of his official duties in the decision not to renew the appointments of the dismissed junior faculty members.

The final decision raised awareness among students at OSC, prompting editorials to be published in The Daily Barometer, urging students to get involved and understand the implications that such an action had on them. One student wrote,

It means that compliance to ‘accepted’ political thought is required of our college professors. It means that any person who disagrees with either Democratic or Republican party platforms is not a fit person to teach in this institution. It means that Dr. Einstein wouldn’t be allowed to teach our physics department since he has been active in supporting the Progressive Party. For the same reason, Dr. Linus Pauling, OSC graduate and present head of the American Chemical Society, would be considered unfit to teach here.

The conflict also led to national-level stories, including one written by John L. Childs in The Nation, titled “Communists and the Right to Teach.” Among other details, the article noted that a recent National Commission on Educational Reconstruction meeting had determined that “membership in the Communist Party is not compatible with service in the educational institutions of the United States.”

Spitzer and La Vallee both made one final return to OSC on May 26, 1949 to speak about “Your Stake in Academic Freedom.” The event was publicized on campus as “the story the Barometer didn’t print.”

The debate over academic freedom raged on well into the 1950s and ’60s, and life after OSC for Ralph and Terry Spitzer was a bit of a challenge. Spitzer applied widely for academic jobs across the country, applications which invariably were met for an explanation as to the reasons for his departure from Corvallis.  Oftentimes these institutions also consulted with Strand, who only offered negative words on Spitzer.

Unemployment and passport controversies plagued Spitzer until he was eventually hired in 1951 by the University of Kansas City as a chemistry professor.  He and Terry later moved to Canada, where Ralph obtained an M.D.  The couple eventually settled in British Columbia where Ralph enjoyed a long career in medical research.

Ralph and Terry Spitzer, ca. 1970s.

For Pauling the Spitzer incident was a bitter pill and one that did damage to his relationship with his alma mater.  In a letter written to an OSC colleague in April 1959, Pauling summed up his feelings at the time

I wish that I could accept your invitation to me to participate in the symposium that you are planning, but I have decided, a number of years ago, that I would not return to the Oregon State College so long as the last word that I had from President Strand was his statement, published in the Barometer, that Oregon State would get along without me in the future.

And so it was that Pauling made no official visit to his undergraduate campus from 1937 to December 1966, when he returned to deliver an address on “Science and the Future of Man.” Pauling’s talk was delivered some five years after the retirement of August Strand from the presidency of what was, by then, known as Oregon State University.

Ralph Spitzer: The Firing

Ralph Spitzer receiving a certificate from the United States Navy, 1948.

[Part 2 of 3]

During Ralph Spitzer’s time as a professor at Oregon State College, he became increasingly interested in social problems, particularly concerning the atomic bomb.  In a letter, Spitzer informed his mentor Linus Pauling that ever since early September 1945, when Dr. George Kistiakowsky spoke to a group at Wood’s Hole about the atomic bomb, he had been devoting larger portions of his time and thought to social concerns.

Spitzer realized that his efforts were limited due to his lack of knowledge about international affairs and he began to think of ways in which he could make a bigger impact in order to “preserve peace and civilization.” One outgrowth of this was a visit to Reed College that may have been partly responsible for the formation of the Portland Association of Scientists.  Spitzer also planned to apply for a fellowship abroad in which he could study economics and philosophy, as well as physical chemistry.

The 1948 presidential election was likewise beginning to play a large role in Spitzer’s life as he became an active supporter of Henry Wallace. In Spitzer’s view, “a whopping big vote for Wallace, whether he wins or not, would serve notice that our bipartisan foreign policy of preparing to win the next war was not what the American people wanted.” It was at this point that Spitzer asked Pauling to nominate him for the overseas fellowship, expressing his hope that he would be back home in time to participate in the presidential campaign.

Pauling recommended Spitzer as “nearly an ideal man for such a job, combining as he does a sound understanding of the physical sciences and a keen interest in social sciences. He is just the sort of man that we must interest in the social sciences.” In Pauling’s estimation, Spitzer’s work was “characterized by unusually good common sense and insight.”

Unfortunately for Spitzer’s ambitions, August Strand, the President of Oregon State College at the time, disagreed.

Ralph and Terry Spitzer, April 1949.

On February 8, 1949, Strand called Ralph Spitzer and his wife Terry, an undergraduate, into his office. The purpose of this summons was to inform Spitzer that his contract would not be renewed because “he had become much more interested in ‘other matters’ than he was in teaching chemistry.” Ralph Spitzer, thirty years old at the time, was told that there was no question of his ability and that he was not delinquent in his duties to the chemistry department.

Terry’s presence was necessary because Strand was also there to tell her that the Progressive Party group on campus, of which Terry was a member, would have to cancel their scheduled meeting on account of Strand’s disapproval of their guest speaker. The question had also been raised as to whether or not Terry, an outspoken activist and education student at OSC who influenced her husband’s views on progressive politics, was a greater threat to the campus than was Spitzer himself.

Within a few days, the story of Spitzer’s firing spread across campus and appeared in many regional newspapers. For its part, the OSC Appeals Committee fully supported Strand in his decision due to the fact that Spitzer was an Associate Professor and had not yet earned tenure. It was within the legal right of the President to refuse to renew Spitzer’s contract without any reasons given, just so long as political activity was not specifically identified as the cause for firing.

Spitzer promptly wrote to Pauling, detailing his experience of being called into Strand’s office. In his letter he emphasized that he was assured that there was no question of competency involved, and that he was not being delinquent in his duties to the chemistry department. Spitzer continued by encouraging Pauling to get involved, writing

I think if we can smash these attacks on academic freedom and out their democratic rights in the next few years, we can fight off fascism permanently. I am sure you are working hard on this problem and hope that it is possible for you to lend a little assistance.

Pauling responded that he was shocked to learn that Spitzer’s contract would not be renewed and added that he would do everything that he could to get to the bottom of the matter and to assist Spitzer. He also requested more information before writing to President Strand, making sure that he had the details of the incident clear. He would later write to Strand in Spitzer’s defense, specifying that he did not agree completely with Spitzer on questions relating to politics, but that he did support him in his right to hold his beliefs.

Oregon State College President August Strand, 1947.

Within days of the firing, stories were published with headlines reading, “Strand Lashes at Commie Professors” and “Dismissed Educators Just ‘Not Wanted,’ Says OSC Head.” In the first headline, “professors” refers to Spitzer and to an Assistant Professor of economics, Dr. L. R. La Vallee, who was also not given a reason for non-renewal of his contract, but was reassured that his academic work had been satisfactory.

So why did the President of Oregon State College essentially fire Ralph Spitzer and L. R. La Vallee? Initially Strand indicated that he did have reasons for the dismissal but that he would not make them public. “I don’t have to give them a statement,” Strand said, “because that is precisely what they want.”

As we will see however, a speech by Strand, editorials debating the issue and letters pouring into the President’s office prolonged the discussion, eventually revealing the motivations underlying August Strand’s actions.

The Independent Citizen’s Committee for the Arts, Sciences and Professions

Is it not more realistic, more practical to use the gifts of nature, as discovered by science, for the good of all the people of the world, considering them as brothers, than for death and destruction? I believe that the discovery of atomic power will be recognized as necessitating world unity, and that the goal of a continually peaceful and happy world, which a few years ago was hardly visible in the greatly distant future, will be achieved within our generation.

-Linus Pauling, “Atomic Energy and World Government,” speech delivered before the Hollywood chapter of ICCASP, November, 30, 1945.

As we’ve well-documented by now, following the end of the Second World War, Linus Pauling began to involve himself with several organizations devoted to peace. The Independent Citizen’s Committee for the Arts, Sciences, and Professions (ICCASP) was one of the first peace-oriented organizations to extend Pauling an invitation. At its heart, the ICCASP was a liberal-leaning lobbying group comprised of artists and intellectuals. The group was started after the end of the war in 1945, and included among its membership a host of well-known names including Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. Even Ronald Reagan temporarily filled a vacancy on the board of directors, though he promptly resigned when allegations of communist infiltration within the group began to arise.

In November 1945, Pauling was invited to speak before the ICCASP about atomic weapons. Pauling discussed the science behind the bomb, emphasizing the destructive force of atomic detonation in terms of more conventional explosives. He also shared his cost estimates for creating nuclear weapons, which were surprisingly low when compared to other types of explosives such as TNT, at least in terms of their destructive potential.

Beyond the science of the bomb, the political implications of atomic development were also stressed, with Pauling vehemently advocating the creation of a single world government to regulate atomic technology and to promote peace among nations. The speech went well except for a small controversy that arose during the question and answer section of the engagement, during which Pauling provided an estimate of the number of atomic weapons which were likely then in existence – an action that was frowned upon in press coverage of the evening.

Charles Chaplin (left), Linus Pauling and Hewlett Johnson (right). 1940s.

Shortly after his November talk, Linus Pauling and his wife Ava Helen were invited to join the ICCASP. Following their introduction to the new social network, the Paulings found themselves chatting with famous actors, hobnobbing at exclusive cocktail parties, and enjoying several behind-the-scenes privileges typically reserved exclusively for the Hollywood elite. Pauling took his role in the organization seriously, but he soon grew weary of the busy social calendar prompted by membership in ICCASP. He was a scientist, and his interests found little expression outside of the group’s formal meetings. Nonetheless, Pauling was highly regarded by the group; his expertise and enthusiasm for the issues of the day were valued by the organization, and he was eventually named regional chairman of the Science and Education division.

Despite his lack of interest in Hollywood glamor, Pauling continued his involvement with the committee for several years. Among other opportunities, the organization provided him with a place to share ideas and to engage in the dialogue helping to shape the public’s understanding of important social issues. The minutes of a meeting from January 21, 1946, which addressed the steady demise of academic freedom, provide an example of this type of engagement.  Reading through the document, one notes Pauling’s disdain for the censorship and intimidation that were threatening objective inquiry in academic society. The tone of the following text is typical of Pauling’s perspective.

There is, of course, always a threat to academic freedom – as there is to the other aspects of the freedom and rights of the individual, in the continued attacks which are made on this freedom, these rights, by the selfish, the overly ambitious, the misguided, the unscrupulous, who seek to oppress the great body of mankind in order that they themselves may profit – and we must always be on the alert against this threat, and must fight it with vigor when it becomes dangerous.

Like many of the groups advocating for peace at the time, the ICCASP was generally supportive of cooperation with the Soviet Union. As the Soviet government assumed a more aggressive posture following the war however, a growing tide of anti-communist sentiment in America made it difficult for groups to continue such open support. Soon many of these organizations, including the ICCASP, came under suspicion of the House Un-American Activities Committee. In the volatile environment that was emerging, loyalty oaths and examinations were becoming more and more common. Many of those who would not submit to such measures were systematically harassed and blacklisted from various organizations and even occupations.

The ICCASP had been involved with the defeat of the May-Johnson bill, but as opposing forces gained in stature, the influence of the organization began to diminish. Of greater concern was the fact that involvement in the organization was eventually used by investigators as proof of cooperation with communist conspiracy – a tactic used effectively by the House Un-American Activities Committee in its 1947 grilling of the “Hollywood Ten“.

Similarly, Senator Joseph McCarthy himself accused Linus Pauling of involvement with the Communist party in 1950. During subsequent investigations by the FBI, HUAC and an internal investigation at Caltech, Pauling’s association with the ICCASP was consistently held against him. Pauling, at great personal cost, withstood the attacks of his accusers, and was eventually cleared of any wrong doing. Though it caused him much grief, Pauling refused to renounce his affiliation with the ICCASP – nor, for that matter, did he cut ties with any other organization whose membership had put him under suspicion.

The Story of Sidney Weinbaum

Sidney Weinbaum, June 1950.

Sidney Weinbaum, born and raised in Western Russia, came to the U.S. in 1922 after studying at the Charkoff Institute of Technology. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Caltech in 1924 before working for several years in the chemical industry. Weinbaum was a talented mathematician and, as chance would have it, met Linus Pauling in an advanced mathematics class his first year at Caltech. He returned to the Institute in 1929 and received his doctorate in physics, under Pauling’s guidance.

A newly minted Ph.D., Weinbaum was next given a research fellowship in the chemistry department, and aided Pauling’s work with crystal structure determinations, quantum mechanics and general research on molecular structures, spending much of his time solving complex mathematical calculations. Weinbaum co-published two crystal structure determinations with Pauling in 1934, those of enargite and calcium boride, and his handwriting can be found in several years’ worth of Pauling’s research notebooks dating to the 1930s. He delivered a number of lectures in Pauling’s quantum mechanics course, and was one of several students who helped put together a published textbook based on the course’s content.

Both Sidney and his wife Lina enjoyed a somewhat close relationship with the Paulings, getting together several times a year over the course of their time in Pasadena. Outside of his academic responsibilities, and aside from his enthusiasms for the piano and chess, Weinbaum was very active in politics. Though Weinbaum later maintained that he never spoke with Pauling about politics during their acquaintanceship, he was himself engaged in political discussion groups throughout the 1930s and 1940s. He distributed petitions and was well acquainted with a variety of activists, some of them communist, with whom he discussed world issues and shared friendship.

In 1943 Weinbaum left Pauling’s lab to join the aviation industry. He returned to Caltech in 1946, this time working at the school’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. As part of his new job, which involved work on classified projects, Weinbaum was required to hold a security clearance. After working on the job for three years, on July 7, 1949, both the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Weinbaum were sent a letter from the 6th Army Headquarters in San Francisco, denying Weinbaum clearance to access classified material. He was removed from classified work, and his position was terminated soon thereafter.

According to the authorities that had revoked Weinbaum’s extended security clearance, he had “willfully omitted” previous involvement with any communist organization during a 1949 Army security questionnaire. As a result, several hearings were held before the Industrial Employment Review Board concerning the matter, during which Linus Pauling himself submitted an affidavit that attested to Weinbaum’s loyalty. Weinbaum’s case was appealed, and he appeared before a military review board during the spring of 1950, where he denied charges of communist membership under oath.

Weinbaum defense fund letter, circulated by Linus Pauling, 1949.

Though he continued to maintain his innocence, Sidney Weinbaum was eventually arrested on charges of perjury. (but not disloyalty)  His attendance of “communist club” meetings and association with known communists during his days as a student were held against him as proof of his perjury. In response, Pauling and several other Friends of Sidney Weinbaum began raising money to aid Weinbaum’s legal expenses, setting up a defense fund to help ease the financial burden. In September of 1950 however, at the Federal District Court in Los Angeles, Weinbaum was convicted of perjury and sentenced to four years imprisonment.

Before and during Weinbaum’s case, Pauling himself was under investigation by several authorities for any ties he might have had to the communist party. Though his support of Weinbaum did not help his cause, no convincing evidence could ever be found to suggest that Pauling himself was a communist. The damaging investigations did not end any time soon, however. The FBI continued to monitor his interaction with the Weinbaums, and even the social time that Ava Helen Pauling spent with Lina Weinbaum was marked by federal agents.

After the perjury trial, Pauling’s relationship with Weinbaum was frequently held against him and often used as a passive barb by investigatory committees. Pauling maintained his composure throughout the process, but the strain of so much focus deeply affected him. Particularly, Pauling was hurt by the distrust and distancing that occurred between him and many of his colleagues at Caltech. He did his best to go on with his life as it had always been, but it was impossible to ignore certain difficulties. Though it continued to place him under suspicion, Pauling wrote to Sidney fairly frequently during his imprisonment.

After spending over two years in jail for perjury, Weinbaum was finally released on parole in 1953. The Paulings had maintained contact with Sidney and his wife during his trial and sentence, but their circumstances began to force a divide between them. Sidney faced difficulties acquiring a permanent job, not least of all because of his history, and Lina was left largely debilitated by illness. Though the Paulings were sympathetic, Linus was unable to lend the Weinbaums much assistance. The stress and misfortune of their circumstances led to the Weinbaums’ divorce soon afterward. Though Lina continued to send the Paulings letters up through the early 1990s, Linus received his final letter from Sidney Weinbaum in 1953, shortly after he was paroled.

Letter from Sidney Weinbaum to Linus Pauling, sent from prison, December 1950.

Pauling and Weinbaum remained cordial during their correspondence, but it is evident that both individuals were resentful for what had happened. Weinbaum, the victim of a witch hunt and subject of capricious inquisition, blamed Pauling and his associates for not helping more. Pauling, who had done more on Sidney’s behalf than almost anyone, blamed his involvement in the affair for significant damage to his reputation and the loss of a $4,800/year consulting job. The circumstances that they shared served as apt illustration for the madness of the times.

Though he suffered through great difficulties, Sidney Weinbaum’s story ended on a sunnier note. A man he knew through chess associations eventually found him a job at a factory. Shortly afterward he met the woman who would become his second wife, and though his scientific pursuits were ended, he lived a relatively happy existence thereafter, well into elder years.

The Passport Imbroglio

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling's passport photo. 1953.

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling's passport photo. 1953.

A quick glance at the “Today in Linus Pauling” widget found at the top of the left sidebar of the Pauling Blog gives an excellent representation of the span and influence of Linus Pauling’s career. Rarely does a day go by where he didn’t write at least one manuscript or give a speech at a university or some other institution. Most days, readers will also note that he won some sort of award – including, of course, his two Nobel Prizes in chemistry and peace. Basically, Pauling’s career fits very well with the old cliché that anything can be done if the mind is simply set on it.

However, if one looks closely enough, a few failures can still be picked out of Pauling’s illustrious career. One of these failures is undoubtedly his attempt at determining the correct primary structure of DNA. Pauling first started working with DNA in the early 1950s, right around the time when his scientific career was reaching its peak. During this time, Pauling’s pursuits had also taken a controversial political shift – work which caused him to be denied a passport for a short period of time. This passport denial, because it is believed by many to be the reason why Pauling was beaten to the structure of DNA, is the topic of today’s post.

Near the end of 1951, Pauling received an invitation to attend a meeting of the Royal Society in England; a meeting that was specially designed for him to address questions about his protein structures. The meeting was scheduled for May 1, 1952, and promised to give Pauling an opportunity to visit King’s College in London, where he knew Maurice Wilkins had some excellent X-ray patterns of DNA.

However, when Pauling sent in his passport renewal application in January 1952, he was upset but unsurprised to find it denied by Ruth B. Shipley, the head of the State Department’s passport division. Shipley didn’t give Pauling a good reason for the denial, stating only that “the Department is of the opinion that your proposed travel would not be in the best interests of the United States.” Reading between the lines, Pauling’s liberal views had clearly earned him the label of “possible Communist,” and Shipley, who was a fervent anti-Communist, had the authority to deny passports at her discretion.

Video Link: Pauling discusses his reaction to the refusal of his passport.

Fortunately for Pauling, the delay caused by the situation was not a long one. In the summer of 1952, he sent in another passport application. Again, Shipley immediately denied it, but her decision was overruled – after much deliberation – by higher-level employees of the State Department. Eventually, Pauling was notified that he would be granted a limited passport to travel for a short period of time in England and France if he agreed to sign an affidavit stating that he wasn’t a Communist. Surprised and pleased by the news, Pauling immediately agreed and received his new passport within days.

Thus equipped with the necessary papers, Pauling traveled to England, where he stayed for a month. He visited the same places and talked with the same people that he would have earlier in the year, but he did not visit King’s College to view Wilkins’ X-ray data. As it turns out, Pauling wasn’t even thinking about DNA during his time in England.

After England, Pauling traveled to France, where he learned of the results of the Hershey-Chase blender experiment:  DNA was in fact the site of the gene, not proteins, as Pauling had believed. Upon learning of the keen importance of DNA, he decided that he would solve the structure of the molecule.

However, when he returned to Caltech in September of 1952, he continued to work almost exclusively with proteins. It wasn’t until November that Pauling would finally take a serious stab at the structure of DNA. And, as has been well-documented, even with his excellent knowledge of structural chemistry, Pauling’s data – presented in the form of blurry X-ray patterns created by William T. Astbury – was insufficient. He ended up creating a model that was nearly identical to one Watson and Crick had made over a year earlier. Of course, Pauling soon learned that his structure was incorrect, and before he could make another attempt, Watson and Crick had solved DNA.

The importance of Pauling’s passport imbroglio is, as it turns out, counter to the popular mythology of the DNA story. Although the denial of Pauling’s passport caused minor delays in his travels, it surely did not keep him from determining the structure of DNA. Even if he had traveled to England as originally planned, it is unlikely that he would have visited Wilkins to view his X-ray data. Pauling, even after finding out that DNA was extremely important, made no effort to obtain better data, nor did he even work specifically with DNA for quite some time. One is forced to conclude then, that the reason that Linus Pauling was not able to solve DNA is that he never really put his mind to the matter, not because of a pesky passport denial that delayed his travels a mere ten weeks.

For more information on Linus Pauling’s DNA pursuits, please visit the website Linus Pauling and the Race for DNA: A Documentary History. For other information on Pauling, check out the Linus Pauling Online portal.