The History of the Pauling Blog: An Archivist Reflects

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Red carnations left anonymously in the Valley Library Special Collections and Archives Research Center foyer on February 28, 2018 — Pauling’s 117th birthday.

[Extracts from an interview by Tiah Edmunson-Morton with Chris Petersen, conducted on the occasion of the Pauling Blog’s tenth anniversary. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. Part 4 of 4.]

Tiah Edmunson-Morton: Do you see yourself as his biographer?

Chris Petersen: Oh no, definitely not. But here is what I do see myself as. I see myself as a person who, through pure accident, wound up in a very unique position. I was hired as a student assistant in 1996, I was hired as a full-time [faculty member] in 1999, and that was the period of time during which the collection was being processed. And somehow I took charge of that when I was a student. The person who had my job before me left in the spring of my senior year of college, and at that point I began to lead the processing effort of this enormous collection. And that continued.

We published the catalog in 2006, so that’s ten years of work based on my start date as a student. And that’s never going to happen again. Nobody’s ever going to re-process the Pauling Papers. I hope not, at least. [laughs] So I had this opportunity that nobody else will ever have. And when you work with a collection, you don’t necessarily become their biographer, but you do have a level of intimacy with the material that nobody else will ever have, because nobody else is going to process that collection.

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Linus Pauling in the original Special Collections reading room, 1988.

And now when I think about the blog I think about it in multiple ways, but one of the ways that I think about it is it being a resource for future archivists who work at OSU to be able to work with this collection in a more effective way, just because they’re not going to have that same experience of working with it that I had. And part of what continues to motivate me to publish the [Pauling Blog] is that — to leave a little bit of my experience behind after I’m gone. Because the blog will hopefully continue to exist. I doubt it will continue to be published after I stop doing it, whenever that is, but what we’ve done will continue to exist. We’re archiving it with our Archive-It instance, so it’s in the Internet Archive. It gets archived once a quarter.

And I’m happy about that. It’s a very big collection, it’s difficult to provide reference for it because of its size, and it’s unfair for all of the people who work here to be expected to know it on anything more than a surface level. So this is a tool for them to have in the future.

TEM: Is there a post that you thought about writing, because of the depth of knowledge that you have about the collection, that you decided not to write?

CP: Yeah, I thought about writing something [for the tenth anniversary of the Pauling Blog] but we’re doing this instead. [laughs]

There’s a part of me that wants to write a reflection about my engagement with Pauling, a person I never met. He died when I was a senior in high school; actually the summer after my senior year of high school. I was working for the Department of Transportation picking up garbage by the side of the road in Eastern Oregon on the day that he died. So that was my status at the end of his life. But I have come to know him well through strange ways, and I have come to know his oldest son quite well – Linus Jr. – through oral history. And I was in the middle of this department [Special Collections] that doesn’t exist anymore, that was devoted to him. And that’s, again, a unique experience.

Part of my oral history work, in addition to Linus Jr., was to interview Cliff Mead – basically the only head of Special Collections that ever existed – to try to get some of his memories from the chapter before I came along in ’96, because there were nine years of time that elapsed. So I could have a history of Special Collections recorded somewhere.

And anyway, part of me has thought about writing these recollections down, but it seems like a lot of work [laughs] and I have other things to do right now. But maybe someday.

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Ava Helen Miller with Linus Pauling, 1922.

TEM: What about topics that you’ve thought about writing about? I mean, there’s some really personal relationship stuff between he and Ava Helen.

CP: Yep. That’s actually a good example of something that I’ve thought about and haven’t done. So they were separated for a year when he went to Caltech and she was here [at Oregon Agricultural College]. They wanted to get married and their parents wouldn’t let them, so she stayed here in Corvallis for a year and he went for his first year of grad school. And then he came back that next summer, they got married, and they went off together. But they were apart for one year and they wrote to each other basically every single day, and we have all of his letters but none of hers, because he burned them. And I think that there’s probably good stuff in those letters but I just can’t deal with it because there’s also a lot of lovey-dovey stuff, and there’s just a lot of stuff period.

But I think that the correspondence between he and Ava Helen is ripe for mining, and Mina Carson did some of that for her Ava Helen biography. Pauling was super formal in his correspondence and pretty much to the point, because he was doing a lot of corresponding and just was a very busy person. The one time where he reveals himself on any deeper level, or reveals any kind of vulnerability, is in his correspondence with his wife. So I think that there’s probably a lot there that could be thought about and teased out, but it would take a lot of time and thinking to try and figure out what exactly is going on here with some of that stuff. But that’s something that I would like somebody to do some day; that’s definitely at least a paper, if not a book.

Something that I would like somebody else to do that definitely is a book is to talk about his relationship with Caltech. He was there for a long time and it would be really interesting to trace his evolution while there and also to trace the Institute’s evolution while he was there, and think about how the two of them were symbiotic on some level. I mean, Caltech was not Caltech when he joined, and it is Caltech today in part because he was there. He helped to build that place. He certainly wasn’t the only person, but he was a significant piece of it.

And on the same token, when he went to Caltech — he came from an extremely humble background and he’s lucky to have made it out of that background. When he went to Caltech he was very smart and ambitious but super green. I mean, his education that he got here was, I think, pretty modest. OAC was a land grant institution, it was focused on practical stuff, and he had far greater aspirations than that.

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Hand-tinted photo of Pauling at the Sutherlin work site, 1922.

And he got into Caltech — one of my favorite stories about Pauling is that, so he’s been accepted to Caltech and the summer before he goes down there he’s working for the Department of Transportation and he’s a pavement inspector. And so he’s out in the middle of nowhere in Oregon, inspecting pavement and living in a tent. But before he embarked upon this job he wrote to A.A. Noyes, who is the head of the Chemistry section of Caltech — there are basically three people who started Caltech and Noyes was one of them — and Pauling says, “I’m coming to grad school, how do I become a grad student?” And Noyes is writing a textbook and he sends him a manuscript version of the textbook and tells him, “Do all the problems in this book.” And so that summer in his tent, with a lantern, Pauling is doing this work and learning how to become a grad student and how to become a scientist.

And so he goes to Caltech and he’s there for a few years and at the end of that he gets this Guggenheim fellowship to go to Europe to learn quantum mechanics as it’s basically being invented. And then he comes back to the United States, applies quantum mechanics to structural chemistry, publishes a series of papers that become The Nature of the Chemical Bond in 1939, and that’s Nobel-quality work at that point. And it’s a very short period of time during which this process is moving forward, but for me it begins in that tent.

In any case, Caltech was hugely important for Pauling and vice-versa, and I think that would be a book that somebody should write; I’d love to see that. That’s not a series of blog posts.

One of the things that we’ve done a lot is to talk about his associations with places. We’ve done a series on his tenure at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, which was rocky at best and short-lived. Same thing with UCSD. We’ve got a series coming out soon about his time at Stanford. We’ve done a lot on his relationship with Oregon Agricultural College too. But it’s harder to wrap yourself around the relationship with Caltech because he was there for so long and so much happened.

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But I think I figured out a way that we can start to engage with that a little bit, and that’s something that’s being worked on right now, and that’s to talk about his work as an administrator. So he was the head of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering for a long time and he was in charge of a lot of grant money and he had an army of grad students who worked for him. And part of his success story is that he was a very able administrator, and obviously a brilliant thinker.

So he’d come up with an idea and give it a grad student, and that might become that grad student’s entire career basically. They would pursue that as a grad student and continue to pursue it for the rest of their career. It was something that would emerge from this yellow piece of paper that he would give to people, saying “you can work on this if you want, you don’t have to.” It was implied that you should. [laughs]

But he published 1,100 papers and you don’t do that without help. And there are plenty of co-authors there and people who went on to win Nobel Prizes — the Pauling tree is vast and significant. So I’m interested in that; I’m interested in his ability to be a leader of men. And it was men, because Caltech didn’t allow women. But I’m interested in his ability to attract grant money and how this all flows into creating this career that is so remarkable. And a lot of it happened at Caltech; a lot of the best stuff happened at Caltech.

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A Global Friendship

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Asima Chatterjee (front row, third from right) with her students and the Paulings, February 1967. Credit: Indian Academy of Sciences

[An examination of Linus and Ava Helen Pauling’s relationship with the influential Indian chemist, Asima Chatterjee. Part 2 of 2.]

Asima Chatterjee’s one and only meeting with Linus and Ava Helen Pauling took place during the Paulings’ tour of India, which spanned the months of January and February 1967. During the final leg of this trip, for a mere sixteen hours, the Paulings landed in Kolkata, toured the University, saw Chatterjee’s labs, and met her students. From there the Paulings departed India en route to Honolulu, where they planned to spend a few days visiting with their son, Linus Jr. Before leaving however, the Paulings gave a sum of money to Chatterjee that they later requested she spend on a wedding gift from them for her daughter. Though a small token, this gift was surely an indication of the esteem that the Paulings felt for their friend and fellow scientist.


While 1967 began on a high note for Chatterjee, the year ultimately proved to be profoundly difficult. In the months following the Paulings’ departure, Chatterjee lost both her husband and her father. Congruent with these personal tragedies, the political environment in Chatterjee’s home region of West Bengal, and particularly in Kolkata, began to deteriorate as a radical communist group, the Naxalites, began to gain influence in the area.

While the details of Chatterjee’s personal heartache, as well as India’s mounting regional strife, were communicated in her letters to the Paulings, one is also able to intuit a degree of solace being found in correspondence. In particular, Chatterjee was keen to point out Linus Pauling’s sweeping geniality and friendship, commenting that “we all admire his enthusiasm and unlimited energy. He is so dynamic! We wonder where he gains this energy.”

Though first and foremost a scientist, Asima Chatterjee’s concerns for her home country’s well-being echoed similar frustrations being felt by her stateside correspondents. While the Paulings were focused primarily on global problems of the nuclear age, in India the worries were more acute. In particular, the need to navigate and correct a wide array of political, social and economic dysfunctions left behind by the colonial era proved to be a momentous and primary challenge.

The strains of adjusting to a new era of independence that were felt nation-wide also impacted Chatterjee in a multitude of ways. Professionally, many students at her university abandoned their studies to join the Naxalites in protest. As these demonstrations grew in intensity, splinter groups resorted to attacks on Kolkata’s infrastructure that resulted in damage to the city’s power grid.

During this period of tumult, Chatterjee’s concern for the fortunes of her students, her daughter and, indeed, her country were evident in her communications with Ava Helen. In their letters, the two women discussed a number of social issues, including student unrest around the world, Kolkata’s seemingly intractable troubles, and the escalation of violence in Vietnam. In a 1971 letter, Ava Helen expressed her sympathy for Chatterjee’s plight. “The world gets no better and we have been full of sorrow and anxiety for India the past year,” she wrote. “It is so dreadful that the world refuses to try another method.”

Replying a few weeks later – during the final months of a genocidal campaign that resulted in the deaths of between 300,000 and 3 million people in present-day Bangladesh – Chatterjee expressed growing dismay about the state of affairs on the subcontinent.

Air raid sirens and black outs are frequent occurrences in the city. The number of refugees in India is beyond imagination… It is not possible for India to look after those millions of refugees permanently.

Though she could not have known the final tally at that time, statistics now show that some 10 million refugees fled Bangladesh for India in 1971.

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Asima Chatterjee (at center in white sari) with some of her students, 1997. Credit: Indian Academy of Science.

Chatterjee also noted that academic rigor at the University of Calcutta had diminished, suggesting that “the University has been converted into a machine for turning out [hundreds] of graduates every year.”

And yet, in spite of it all, Chatterjee remained very productive. By 1961 she had published 105 peer-reviewed papers and, in 1972, she was selected to be the honorary Programme Coordinator at the Centre for Advanced Studies in Chemistry of Natural Products. Three years later, she became the first woman to be elected as General President of the Indian Science Congress Association.

In 1982, after retiring from her duties as a professor, Chatterjee received a very different kind of honor when she was selected to a seat in the Raiya Sabha. A component of India’s parliament, the Raiya Sabha consists of twelve nationals who, in the estimation of the President, have made a profound impact on their fields. Chatterjee served in this is position until 1990. She died sixteen years later, on November 22, 2006, and is survived by her daughter Julie Banerji, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Calcutta.


The global friendship shared by Linus Pauling, Ava Helen Pauling and Asima Chatterjee was certainly unorthodox — in person, the relationship consisted entirely of a single, half-day meeting. Through the power of the pen however, the Paulings and Chatterjee cemented and grew their fondness for one another, regularly exchanging holiday greetings and carrying out various professional favors. Today, their bond stands as evidence in support of the imperative that knowledge flow freely across social and geographic boundaries. Their story also serves as an example of the ways in which science and concerns for humanity are so often intertwined.

Scientist, Sartorialist

[Part 3 of 4 examining Linus Pauling’s sense of style. Today’s post covers the 1960s and 1970s.]

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Posing with a model near the end of his time at Caltech, 1963.

 

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Harvesting abalone at Deer Flat Ranch, 1963.

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Elsewhere on the grounds at Deer Flat Ranch, 1964. Photo Credit: Arthur Herzog.

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Sitting for sculptor Zena Posever at Deer Flat Ranch, 1966. Note that Pauling was suffering from a broken leg at the time.

 

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On Thanksgiving Day, 1968 with Linda Pauling Kamb and her boys. This image was taken in La Jolla, California, where Linus and Ava Helen maintained a residence for a handful of years. Photo Credit: Barclay Kamb.

 

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Posing in San Francisco, 1969. Photo Credit: Margo Moore.

 

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The Paulings with Norma Lundholm Djerassi in 1970. Pauling came to favor this tan fishing hat for informal occasions.

 

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The Paulings at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. for the Lenin Peace Prize ceremony, 1970. In this photo they pose with Russian geoscientist Boris Davydov.

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On the deck at Deer Flat Ranch, 1971. At far left is Frances Fritchman.

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Pauling posing next to a poster featuring a detailed cross-section of the human epidermis. Stanford University, 1971.

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A striking portrait taken at the University of Missouri, 1972.

 

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Matching (!) in Dallas, Texas, 1972.

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Pauling with his sister Pauline on the day of her wedding to Charles Dunbar, 1973. This photo marks an early appearance of a red jacket that Pauling came to wear with some frequency.

 

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In Nagasaki, Japan, 1975.

 

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With Nahid Hakimelahi in Persepolis, Iran, 1975.

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With “Z. Hecher” in Menlo Park, California, perhaps on the grounds of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, 1977.

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With Ivan Zupec in Belmont, California, 1977.

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Linus and Ava Helen in their living room at Deer Flat Ranch, 1977.

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The red jacket makes another appearance. This is one in a series of photos taken to promote the NOVA documentary, “Linus Pauling: Crusading Scientist,” in 1977.

 

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Pauling in his office at LPISM with a visitor identified only as “Kazuo,” 1978.

 

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A portrait from 1978.

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Posing in Pasadena on a beautiful autumn day, 1979.

 

Pauling Couture

[Part of 2 of 4 in a series exploring Linus Pauling’s sense of style. Today’s post features photographs taken during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.]

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Baby Peter Pauling with his parents and brother Linus Jr. The family poses here in front of the Pauling home on Arden Road, Pasadena, 1931.

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The Paulings pose with an unidentified family. This photo marks an early appearance of Pauling’s beard. 1933.

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A relaxing moment with Linda, who is two years old in this photo. 1934.

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In lecture at Caltech, 1935.

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The beard returns, this time at Painted Canyon, California, a common getaway location for the Pauling family during the 1930s. Photo taken in 1935.

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A more formal portrait of Pauling with his beard, 1935.

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Dressed for cold weather at Niagara Falls. Of this moment, Ava Helen wrote: “It was so cold we wrapped scarfs around our heads and then put our hats on over the scarf.” The Paulings pose with their friend Yvonne Handy. Photo taken in 1938.

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Ava Helen and Linus photographed during a trip to Madison, Wisconsin, July 1939.

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Picnicking at Corona del Mar, California, 1940.

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In the laboratory with rabbits, 1942.

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Lecturing on structural chemistry at the Richards Medal ceremony. Pauling received this award from the Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society in 1947.

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On holiday with the family of Carl Nieman, 1948.

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Posing with a new friend, 1948.

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And posing once more (and proudly) with the family car, 1948.

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In England with Lord and Lady Leverhulme, 1948. Pauling spent much of this year as a visiting professor at Oxford.

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In Hawaii, 1948.

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Another photo from the Hawaii trip, 1948.

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An early image of Pauling wearing what would become an iconic accessory for him – a black beret. Photo taken in 1953.

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Posing in front of the Fairpoint Street home, Pasadena, 1954.

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A publicity still of Pauling with a model of the alpha helix, 1954.

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In white tie and tux at the 1954 Nobel ceremonies.

 

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With Ava Helen at the old cabin, Deer Flat Ranch, 1957. Photo Credit: Arthur Dubinsky.

 

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Visiting Albert Schweitzer’s compound in Lambaréné, Gabon, 1959.

 

Clothes Make the Man

[Ed Note: The Pauling Blog becomes a photo blog for the next four weeks as we dig into the 5,500+ images held in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers. In addition to showing off some pictures that have never before been released online, this examination pays particular attention to Pauling’s evolving taste in clothes over the years. Today’s post features selections from Pauling’s birth in 1901 to the end of the 1920s.]

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Pauling in 1902, age 1. Note in particular the necklace.

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Pauling, age 5, posing in buffalo-skin chaps, 1906. Linus’s father had this photo commissioned for use in advertising his Condon, Oregon pharmacy.

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Linus, at center, with his two sisters, Lucile (left) and Pauline. This photo was also taken in Condon in 1908.

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Eight years later, the Pauling children posed near their home in Portland with their mother. From left to right: Lucile, Linus, Belle and Pauline Pauling, 1916.

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Pauling in his ROTC uniform during Fall term of his freshman year at Oregon Agricultural College. He is sixteen years old in this photo. Two years of ROTC was compulsory for all male students attending OAC at the time.

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An iconic portrait of the young Pauling taken the summer after his freshman year at OAC. Specifically, this photo was taken on the Oregon Coast in Tillamook, where the Paulings spent some time during the summer of 1918. Linus worked as a pin boy at a local bowling alley during the stay.

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Another photo of Pauling in his military dress, 1918. Though only two years were required, Pauling opted to remain in ROTC for the entirety of his OAC experience, graduating from the college having attained the rank of Major.

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Far from a typical look for Pauling, this image is cropped from a group photo of participants in the OAC “Feminine Section Intrafraternity Smoker,” circa 1920.

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Pauling with his life-long friend, Paul Emmett, in 1920. Also a Beaver, Emmett went on to become a major scientific figure in his own right, making significant contributions to the study of catalysis chemistry. Emmett also became Pauling’s brother-in-law when he married Pauline Pauling late in life.

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Pauling clowning around sometime near his graduation from OAC in 1922.

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Newly arrived at Caltech, Pauling poses on the back of a student’s car.

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Pauling with his bride, Ava Helen, her mother, Nora Gard Miller, and Nettie Spaulding, one of Ava Helen’s eleven siblings. Standing at front is Nettie’s daughter, Leone. 1924.

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The young couple outside their Pasadena home in 1925. Linus had been working on their Model-T Ford prior to this photo being taken.

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Looking very California on a trip to the beach. 1925.

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At the Temple of Neptune, Paestum, Italy, during his legendary Guggenheim trip to Europe. This photo was taken by Ava Helen in April 1926.

Life at the Big House

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Pauling’s schematic of the Big House at Deer Flat Ranch, April 1964.

[The story of Deer Flat Ranch, part 3 of 3]

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling stayed in the Old Cabin when at Deer Flat Ranch from 1956 to 1964, and during much of this period, visiting family members would often sleep in the barn. By 1961, a pre-designed kit home had been constructed for guests to use. Located down the gorge from the barn, at the foot of Salmon Cone, the house came to be called China Camp, named after the adjacent beach.

That same year, Pauling began conversations with Dr. Gustav Albrecht of Caltech, a former student of Pauling’s, about acting as chief architect on the design of a new home on the property. Albrecht worked with John Gamble Associates and, once construction began, lived in the Old Cabin for several months to supervise the building according to Pauling’s specifications.

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A view of the Big House near its entryway.

By 1964, the “Big House” was complete. It was an unorthodox home, filled with angled windows of multiple types that offered numerous views of the Pacific Ocean. The home likewise featured dueling his and hers studies, as well as a garage that was specifically built to shelter a car while also housing Pauling’s collection of scientific journals. Book cases were everywhere and, as time moved forward, the decor came to be dominated by framed honorary doctorates lining the hallways and mounted in every room. A massive stone fireplace separated the kitchen from the living room, and a large, westward-facing deck became a focal point for social gatherings. The unusual space proved difficult to maintain, but for the Paulings it was heaven on earth nonetheless.


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Looking southwest from the living room.

The Big House was built at the end of a new road that had been bulldozed from the Old Cabin west to a nearby glade that the Paulings called “Eucalyptus Hollow.” By the time that most of the construction was completed, excavations on the Pauling land had revealed that a small village of Salinan Indians, dating back thousands of years, had once been located in the area where the Big House was built. More artifacts were discovered under the Old Cabin, which was rebuilt and, a decade later, joined by a new caretaker’s house. Pauling held on to several of the Salinan artifacts as well as a small collection of human remains, all of which were repatriated once Pauling’s papers were donated to Oregon State University.

Kids and grandkids visiting during and immediately following the construction, and were often volunteered to perform various duties on the property. Linus Pauling Jr., his wife Stephanie, and Stephanie’s daughter Carrie were frequent visitors throughout the 1970s. During this time they assisted in finishing floor moldings and tiles at the Big House, which sported a decorative copper diving screen based on the mezzanine foyer in Dulles National Airport, as well as a specially made copper roof.

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Dining on the deck, 1971.

The Big House was as a sanctuary, and it was understood that even family visitors were not to barge in unannounced. Rather, Ava Helen would run a dish towel up a nearby flagpole when she was ready to receive visitors, usually in the late morning.

During visits with family, Pauling tended to focus his conversation on scientific matters, while it was Ava Helen who worked to bring the family together, particularly relishing her role as a grandmother. Catching fish from the Pacific Ocean and cooking under gas lights in the wilderness of California’s coastal forests, visitors often felt a sense of living in the pioneer past. Linus and Ava Helen reveled in this sensation themselves, and after 1966 they were spending fully half of their time at the Big House.


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Ava Helen’s Artcraft stove.

With advancing age came thoughts of retirement, and Linus and Ava Helen began to imagine that they might move to the ranch full-time by Pauling’s 70th birthday, or perhaps his 75th. Pauling was, unsurprisingly, consistently non-committal about the idea of giving up his career in science, no matter how old he grew. The ranch, however, offered an appealing happy medium where he could continue to pursue a scientific agenda while lessening the pace and clutter of his very public life.

By 1976, when Ava Helen was diagnosed with cancer, the pair seemed to treasure their time at Deer Flat Ranch all the more; Ava Helen took up the guitar and bought a grand piano, and children and grandchildren came to visit often. Pauling, however, could never truly be removed from science, and spent much of his time at the ranch working on theoretical papers.

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The view from the kitchen.

A year later, Pauling looked to be making good on notions of retirement, and was considering removing himself from day-to-day operations at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, which Art Robinson was leading as president. However, an administrative battle with Robinson that arose over the future of the Institute provided Pauling with a compelling reason to remain highly involved, and he never did fully extricate himself from administrative duties at the Institute that bore his name.


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Ava Helen and Linus in their living room, celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary, June 1973.

In retrospect, it seems unlikely that a man of Pauling’s industry, interests and ego could ever remove himself completely from the world of science and retire to the ranch full time. Indeed, after Ava Helen passed away in 1981, he ramped up his scientific program, working both at the ranch and in Palo Alto, California for the remainder of his life.

As he grew older, the rustic pioneer charm of the ranch faded somewhat for Pauling. The land around the gas service station was found to be eroding at an alarming rate, and it was eventually abandoned. Likewise, the number of cattle and ranch hands slowly dwindled. Eventually, only a single caretaker remained on the property, Steve Rawlings, who also acted as Pauling’s personal nurse during his final years.

Nonetheless, Pauling continued to spend a majority of his time at the property, reading, writing, and dreaming of a peaceful world guided by the light of scientific reason. It seems fitting then that when Linus Pauling passed away, in August 1994, it was in the Big House at Deer Flat Ranch, surrounded by his family.

Deer Flat Ranch: A Kind of Paradise

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Linus Pauling harvesting abalone, 1963.

[The story of Deer Flat Ranch: Part 2 of 3]

In the years immediately following Linus and Ava Helen Pauling’s purchase of Deer Flat Ranch, the space quickly fulfilled its potential as a refuge from an extremely busy existence. A few years after buying the property, Ava Helen told her husband

Do you know, we have been here for one week, you and I, without seeing a single other person? This is the first time in our 40-odd years of marriage that this has happened.

More than a refuge even, the ranch gradually emerged as a kind of paradise for the Paulings. One could reliably harvest ten abalone off the adjacent rocks at low tide, and Linus found that he greatly enjoyed harvesting these sea snails with his wife, pounding them shoreside to tenderize them for dinner.

At the ranch, a horse and a goat kept the cattle company, and marine life including otters and sea lions frequented the beaches. The Paulings also enjoyed collaborating on landscaping chores at the ranch, a pleasure that continued for Linus even after a 1960 incident that resulted in poison oak rashes on both arms.


 

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Outside the old cabin at Deer Flat Ranch, 1962. Photo by Arthur Dubinsky.

During his solo trips to the property, Pauling frequently withdrew into a world of history and philosophy. Pauling’s literary and intellectual interests ranged far and wide, and his reading included the poetry of the Greek atomist Lucretius, the rhetoric and philosophy of the great Roman orator, Cicero, and the metaphysical proto-evolutionary poetry of Charles Darwin’s uncle, Erasmus Darwin. Pauling’s Deer Flat reading list also included a history of British chemistry, as well as Bertrand Russell’s essay, In Praise of Idleness, within which Pauling underlined the quote, “A busy man doesn’t think.”

While at the ranch in the early fifties, Pauling also made note of re-reading Frederick Metcalf Thomas’s Estragia para la Supervivencia, a work developed from Thomas’s thesis. Pauling had read the thesis several years earlier and had even suggested it to Albert Einstein, who followed up on Pauling’s tip and liked it so much that he subsequently wrote the preface for the text, once it was published as a book. While going through the work again at Deer Flat Ranch, Pauling underlined another quote that surely resonated with him: “The enslavement of scientists will not provide a solution for world problems.”


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The Paulings at their ranch, 1964. Photo by Arthur Herzog.

Though Pauling clearly understood the importance of leisure and relaxation, work was still never far from his mind on these visits, be it chemistry, medicine, or world affairs. By 1962, Pauling was writing the third edition of his successful textbook, College Chemistry, entirely at the ranch, typically devoting one week per month to the project while at the Old Cabin, undisturbed by the outside world.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Pauling also spent his time at the ranch thinking about a wide range of problems in chemistry. Among these were the promotion energy of hydrogen atoms; dihedral angles in H2O2 and other molecular structures; the stability of the N2 molecule; electron bonds; antiferromagnetic theory; and much, much more. The bulk of Pauling’s research notebooks from this period consist of musings on current papers in chemistry representing significant problems, and he seemed to want to deduce the solutions to all of them, sitting in his cabin with nothing but a pen, paper, slide rule, and the crashing of the nearby waves.

When the nuclear test ban treaty that Pauling had worked so hard to make a reality went into effect on October 10, 1963, Linus and Ava Helen were at the ranch with their close friends and fellow activists, Clifford and Virginia Durr. The couple had gathered at the ranch with the intent to open a bottle of champagne in celebration of the implementation of the treaty. Before they could pop the bubbly however, the Paulings’ ranch manager, Dale Haskin, arrived at the cabin saying that Linus and Ava Helen’s daughter Linda had called the ranger station trying to get ahold of them.

Upon arriving at the station and returning her call (there were still no phone lines at Deer Flat Ranch at that time), Linda revealed to her father that it had just been announced that he was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and that it would be bestowed in Oslo in two months time. Linus spent the rest of the day at the ranger station receiving calls and granting interviews, becoming so busy that he and his guests forgot to open their champagne.