Pauling’s Disengagement from the Guggenheim Foundation

The Paulings in India, 1955

[Pauling and the Guggenheim Foundation]

In 1950, the Indian government invited Linus Pauling to spend six weeks visiting and lecturing at several of the country’s top universities and research institutions. Pauling and Ava Helen were planning to use the invitation as an opportunity to take a trip around the world during December and January, a circumstance that would seem to preclude Pauling’s service for the year on the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Committee of Selection.

Pauling still wanted to find a way though, and left open the possibility of his participation as he worked to finalize his plans. If Henry Allen Moe, the Foundation’s Secretary, would still have him on the Committee, Pauling wanted the applicant digests to be sent to him in India. To maintain confidentiality and avoid having to carry them around with him afterwards, Pauling would make his notes and then destroy the digests. An extra copy could then be sent to Pasadena, awaiting Pauling’s return.

Moe did not think it a good idea for Pauling to go to India and be on the Committee of Selection, because it would be too much to coordinate. Though recognizing that the India trip was a wonderful opportunity, he also held out hope that Pauling would stay put and continue to serve on the Committee.

As he thought about it some more, Pauling agreed that, were he to make the trip to the subcontinent, it would be best that he not serve on the Committee due to all of the possible mishaps that could arise. At the same time, he was also beginning to have doubts about going, in part because he would miss the opportunity of growing some proteins – presumably for research – in his garden. And while his curiosity about scientific life in India was overriding this desire to garden, Pauling’s delicate health would soon intervene.


As the Paulings delved deeper into the planning for their Indian adventure, Linus came down with the flu and several colds. In the midst of this run of illness, Pauling’s doctor, Richard W. Lippman, recommended that his patient not get the shots necessary for the trip, while also recommending that he not go unless he had the shots. In the end, Pauling decided not risk it and stayed home, but Moe still thought it best for him to not participate on the Committee that year because of his health.

That said, Moe was not shy about soliciting Pauling’s opinion on as many Committee-related topics as he could handle, resulting in one of the duo’s most intense periods of correspondence since Pauling first began serving on the Committee. In particular, Moe badly wanted to send Pauling all of the year’s physics applications because of suspected poor judgment from another adviser, but he managed to hold back.

Even though Pauling was not at the annual meeting, the Committee was grateful for his comments and he was still identified as a member in that year’s announcement of Fellows. That notice, however, would mark Pauling’s final participation on the Committee, though he continued to serve on the Foundation’s Fellowship Advisory Board.

This transition coincided with Pauling and Moe’s disagreement over aspects of the Foundation’s response to the House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate Tax-Exempt Foundations and Comparable Organizations, also known as the Cox Committee. As noted in our previous post in this series, after Pauling supplied his criticisms of the response, Moe retorted with a lengthy justification that questioned Pauling’s judgments on social issues. Pauling did not respond to Moe’s criticisms, but continued to carry out his duties as a member of the Advisory Board.


Excerpt from Moe’s letter to Pauling of June 3, 1954

Following the Cox Committee dispute – and quite unlike the previous year – Pauling and Moe’s correspondence slowed to a trickle and was dotted with signs that their relationship had become strained. Much of their exchange focused on Pauling’s succinct comments on chemistry applicants, though mention is made of Pauling’s attempt to call Moe to provide feedback more efficiently. (Moe was not available to receive the call.) Later, Pauling delayed responding to Moe on a question concerning the conditions of one fellowship, because he agreed with what Moe had decided and did not think a response was necessary.

Some of the tension appeared to begin lifting in June when Moe asked Pauling for input on an applicant, and also relayed that he and his wife Edith were going to England. Pauling responded that he was happy that they were making the trip, but there was little in the way of follow-up. That fall, Moe informed Pauling that his son had returned from his military tour in Asia, was beginning graduate school at the University of North Carolina, and had become a father. The relationship seemed to be in a period of thaw.

Perhaps feeling comfortable again, Pauling decided to reiterate concerns that he harbored about the low stipends attached to Guggenheim Fellowships; concerns he had first broached while Moe was working on the Cox Committee response. Prefaced with a hope that Moe would not mind him bringing up the topic again, Pauling commenced to relay the story of A. H. Livermore, a faculty member at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

Livermore had received a Fellowship to study Molecular and Cellular Biology and had planned to use these funds in conjunction with a Fulbright award to study in England. As it happened, Livermore’s Fulbright application was unsuccessful, thus rendering the trip impossible for him to make with the accompaniment of his family. Pauling felt that the Foundation should pay enough so that a whole family could make the trip and not place any burden on the Fellow.

Moe responded by informing Pauling that Livermore had already planned on deferring his Fellowship and reapplying for a Fulbright the following year. And while he appreciated Pauling’s suggestions on the fellowship amounts, he believed them to be financially unrealistic. Personally, Moe thought that funds would be better split between two equal scholars rather than awarding a larger amount to only one of them. He also thought that it was valid for Fellows to have to invest some of their own money into their work or, if they had none, to find a way of getting some.

Moe’s point of view though, was slipping into the minority. Two years later, in 1956, the Foundation appeared to assimilate Pauling’s opinion – which Committee of Selection Chairman Louis B. Wright also held – and changed the wording of its call for applicants to state that awards would no longer adhere to a firm $3,000, but instead be adjusted to meet a Fellow’s needs.


After this more recent disagreement, Pauling and Moe’s relationship appears to have cooled again, but Pauling’s successful trip to India at the end of 1954 and beginning of 1955 seemed to snap them out of it. Notably, Moe was the first person to whom Pauling wrote upon his return to the U.S. Pauling used this letter to tell the story of his trip, but also to express concern that Moe was working too hard and that he look into hiring another assistant. Moe replied that he had been on the lookout for one and that he hoped to hear a fuller account of Pauling’s travels the next time the two saw each other in person.

The following year, Moe was invited to deliver the commencement address at the California Institute of Technology’s graduation ceremony. Eager to see his old friend, Moe expressed disappointment when he found out that Pauling would be in Rome during that time.

After returning to New York, Moe wrote that the trip had reminded him of the last time he had been in southern California and, in particular, his conversation with Pauling about the lack of water emerging as a limiting factor for additional development of the area. At the time, Pauling told Moe that he was not too concerned since he assumed that, at some point, fresh water could be made from sea water, possibly by using nuclear power. Moe was curious to know if Pauling thought that desalination had become a more feasible option since then.

Pauling responded that he had not kept up with research on the subject, but he believed that experiments related to ionic transfer through thin exchange resin barriers might prove promising. He also noted that the Von Kleinschmidt method of distillation by compression had been used in Boston, but at five cents per ton, it was still more costly than freshwater. A few days later, Pauling wrote again to say that he had been hearing good things about Moe’s speech and was glad that he had suggested him as the speaker. Moe suspected Pauling had been behind the invitation and was pleased to hear that he approved.


Several years later, Moe agreed to serve as a character witness for Pauling in his 1963 suit against the New York Daily News. Pauling, however, left Moe wondering for several months about what was happening in the case. When he finally wrote to thank Moe for testifying, Pauling explained that, according to his attorney, that they done too good of a job in making their case for Pauling’s character. Towards the end of the trial, Pauling wrote, the jury agreed that the paper had committed slander, but they did not think it had succeeded in damaging Pauling’s reputation. The jury then asked the judge for clarification on whether they could still find the paper guilty. The judge told them that they could not and so they found in favor of the paper.

With his background in law, Moe had suspected a turn of events along these lines and committed to testifying again if needed. But when solicited once more, this time for a suit against the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Moe had to decline since he was too busy. Because Pauling’s attorney thought Moe a very important witness, Pauling made one final pitch, hoping that Moe might fly in and out in a single day. Moe still could not do it.

That year was also Moe’s last at the Guggenheim Foundation. He had begun his tenure as President of the American Philosophical Society four years prior and he stayed in the position until 1970. During this time, contacts between Moe and Pauling further diminished, though their occasional exchanges were friendly in tone. Moe died in 1975 at the age of 81.

The Cox Committee Response and a Nasty Falling Out

Linus Pauling and George Beadle, circa 1950s

[Pauling and the Guggenheim Foundation]

At the end of 1952, Guggenheim Foundation Secretary Henry Allen Moe found himself working night and day for several weeks to answer a series of questions sent by the House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate Tax-Exempt Foundations and Comparable Organizations, also known as the Cox Committee.

Once he had completed this onerous task, Moe sent a copy of the 329-page response to Linus Pauling and other members of the Foundation’s Committee of Selection. Pauling, along with his Caltech colleague George Beadle, carefully reviewed the document, and after a period of discussion, Pauling wrote to Moe on December 29 to share his thoughts.

Pauling prefaced his remarks by telling Moe that he was impressed overall and that the response was what he would expect. He did, however, wish to share some “constructive criticism” related to phrasing used in a section on the approval of foreign applicants; a portion of the response that he felt was beneath the “dignity” of the Foundation and risked sacrificing its independence to governmental control.

The passage in question had described the expectation that the Foundation would only grant awards to foreign applicants who had been approved for visas by the State Department. Pauling felt that this stipulation was fraught and gave the government too much influence in the selection process.

The stipulation also surely brought to Pauling’s mind his own inability to obtain a passport earlier in the year, a rejection that came after Pauling had been invited to attend a conference at the Royal Society of London. Pauling believed that if the Royal Society had been obligated to ask the State Department about his passport worthiness in advance, the end result would that he would not have been invited to the meeting at all. Beadle agreed with Pauling’s point of view.

For Moe, answering the Cox Committee inquiry had siphoned away a great deal of time from other pressing duties, and had left him exhausted, stressed, and slow to respond to correspondents, including Pauling. All of these factors came to a head when he finally did write back to Pauling, some two weeks later. Moe clearly took offense at Pauling’s “constructive criticism” and, in a lengthy letter, he addressed those concerns while also taking personal shots at Pauling. The back and forth resulted in lasting damage to what had been a strong relationship shared between colleagues and friends of long standing.


Moe began by explaining that the answers submitted to the Cox Committee were those of the Foundation, not his personally, and had been vetted in detail before their approval by the Board of Trustees. As such, Moe was unable to express any agreement with Pauling’s assessment even if he wanted to…and he did not want to.

Specific to Pauling’s criticism, Moe believed that he had taken the section about visas out of context. For Moe, the passage in question needed to be read as part of the whole document; one that affirmed that only the proper governmental agencies could decide on matters of national interest. In the case of travel visas, the proper governmental agency was the State Department.

Moe also objected to a notion that he believed Pauling had read into the text; namely, that the Foundation welcomed governmental approval of its decisions. He instead clarified that the Foundation would grant awards but would withhold notification until the State Department had approved them. For individuals who were denied clearance, the Foundation would offer to hold the grant in place for the applicant while they appealed the government’s ruling.


The conclusion to Moe’s letter to Pauling of January

Once he had clarified these points, Moe then shifted to a more personal response, one that questioned Pauling’s social judgments. “In these matters of human relations,” he wrote

people do not act like atoms or molecules – i.e., always in the same relation to the same circumstances. Human judgments, which is what we are talking about now, do not occur with the certainty of chemical reactions. Nor is a chain of reactions – one thing leading to another, as you develop it out at the end of the first paragraph on page 2 of your letter – likely to occur in human relations. It is the political genius of the Anglo-Saxon people that such – thought-to-be-logical – ultimates are not permitted to occur.

In this, Moe sought to emphasize his feeling that Pauling had failed to understood the complexity of the situation, one that involved balancing the ideals of civilization with the imperative to remain safe and secure.

To make his point, Moe quoted legal scholars including the nineteenth-century English lawyer William Edward Hall, author of A Treatise on International Law. In it, Hall explained that countries could refuse entry to foreigners, but that doing so meant “to withdraw from the brotherhood of civilized people.” Hall continued

If a country decides that certain classes of foreigners are dangerous to its tranquility, or are inconvenient to it socially or economically or morally, and if it passes general laws forbidding the access of such persons, its conduct affords no grounds for complaint. Its fears may be idle; it legislation may be harsh; but its action is equal.

While Hall wrote within the context of a state’s justification to deny entry to immigrants, Moe explained that the Foundation was doing what it thought best under the more contemporary circumstance of an escalating cold war. This noted, Moe then suggested that by discretely clearing visas for potential fellows before notifying the applicants themselves, the Foundation was actually protecting these individuals from negative exposure that might potentially wreck a career during anxious times. This point spoke directly to Pauling’s own situation and the slander that he had suffered following the Congressional testimony of FBI informant Louis Budenz, a former Communist Party member who had stated that Pauling was also a member of the party’s ranks.

Moe ended his reply by taking one last stinging jab at Pauling’s judgment, this time drawing a connection between Pauling’s claim about the Royal Society invitation and his own testimony before the Cox Committee. Moe’s frustration is clearly evident as he ups the rhetorical ante:

When, in my testimony, I associated political naivete and professional eminence, you were one of the eminent professionals I had in mind. This, without saying so now, you would know from previous letters I have written you. It is my opinion that if you had studied the subject matter of your letter of December 29 one-tenth as critically as you study your chemistry, you would not have taken so untenable a set of positions as you take in your letter.

Moe concluded by informing Pauling that he and Beadle were the only two people who had expressed concern about the Foundation’s independence. Indeed, the only other objections that Moe had fielded were sent by those who believed that the Foundation ought to submit to greater levels of governmental control.

If Pauling responded to this letter it does not remain extant. What is readily apparent, however, is a noticeable shift to formality in the exchanges that followed. Just eighteen months prior, Pauling had invited Moe to visit Pasadena and spend a couple weeks relaxing at his pool. But going forward, the colleagues would correspond with one another on strictly professional grounds.

Robert Corey’s Fellowship and the Roots of an Argument

Robert Corey

[Pauling and the Guggenheim Foundation]

In 1949, as the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation tested out its new style of fellowships for established researchers, scholars, and artists, Linus Pauling put forth his California Institute of Technology colleague Robert B. Corey as an ideal candidate for funding. Corey was researching the crystal structure of amino acids, peptides, and proteins, and wanted to develop more refined molecular models to supplement his experimental work; Pauling estimated he would need about $3,500 to do so. Corey did not make it into the first group of new fellows for that year, but Pauling suggested him again the following year and he was approved.

Corey’s accepted project had grown from the year before. A Dr. Palmer, who worked under F. O. Schmitt at Caltech’s Department of Agriculture Regional Laboratory in Albany, California, had been taking x-ray photographs of lysozyme, the bacterial protein found in tears. Palmer no longer had the time to continue the work, but he and Corey thought a trained assistant could come in and continue taking the photos. These would then be brought back to Pasadena for analysis and interpretation in the Corey lab. Pauling wrote to Guggenheim administrator Henry Allen Moe that this was a “very important job” that fit nicely within Caltech’s broader program of protein structure determinations.


When Corey’s case came before the Committee of Selection, evaluator E. B. Wilson suggested that Corey struck him as being a good candidate for Office of Naval Research funding, and as such he would not need Guggenheim support. Upon hearing this, Pauling clarified in a letter to Moe that the circumstances were not quite so straightforward.

As Pauling explained, after Corey applied for the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Office of Naval Research had indeed approached him about a potential collaboration. Pauling followed up by submitting an application for funding, but he had yet to hear back about final approval. He had, however, been informed that the funds, if granted, would come in at $25,000 less than requested. Furthermore, both Pauling and Corey did not like the idea of all their work being backed by the Navy. (By then, Pauling had already made the decision for himself that he would refuse to accept any armed forces funding.)

More importantly, Pauling told Moe that the progress made at Caltech in the last three years was the “greatest advance in the protein field” since Emil Fischer’s discovery that proteins were polypeptides, some fifty years prior. Pauling’s letter was persuasive and the Committee granted Corey $15,000 over two years.


Corey knew that Moe wanted to meet each fellow in person, and so when he was in New York shortly after the beginning of his fellowship in September 1951, he stopped by the Guggenheim Foundation offices. Moe was not there, but Associate Secretary James F. Mathias was available, and the two enjoyed a pleasant conversation. During that trip, Corey needed to go to Connecticut for a week and decided he would try again to meet with Moe afterwards. This time he called first to see if Moe was in the office, and was told that Moe would not see anyone unless it was very important. Because of the brusqueness of the reply, Corey decided against attempting to arrange any future introductory meetings with Moe.

Over a year later, Pauling suggested that Corey stop to visit Moe while on a different swing through New York. Corey was hesitant to do so, explaining what had happened the first time around and adding a new complaint about Moe’s failure to reply to a letter from Corey about his income taxes. Pauling immediately wrote to Moe to find out more from the secretary’s perspective.

Letter from Josephine Leighton, October 27, 1952

Unbeknownst to Pauling, at that time Moe and Mathias were in the midst of answering a questionnaire issued by the House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate Tax-Exempt Foundations and Comparable Organizations, also known as the Cox Committee. Moe’s assistant, Josephine Leighton, responded to Pauling and, while misunderstanding the exact circumstances, attempted to address his concerns by explaining that Moe had just been too busy, working up to eighteen hours a day on the Cox response. Leighton assured Pauling that Moe wanted to meet in person with all the fellows, but simply could not fit it into his schedule at this time.

Pauling clarified that he was describing an event from the previous year, but did not want to bother Moe any further with the matter and told Leighton that it could wait. Nonetheless, Leighton dug deeper and figured out that Moe had been in Washington when Corey had originally visited. She could not, however, explain the unpleasant telephone call, as the expectation was that no one in the office would act that way. She also could find no record of Corey’s letter about his income taxes.


After a few more weeks had passed, Pauling assumed that Moe had finished up his work responding to the Cox Committee and wrote Moe about concerns that he had regarding the public’s perception of the foundation. In particular, it was Pauling’s impression that the granting organization was no longer seen as significant among the most able of scholars, scientists, and artists. This was mainly due to the foundation giving out comparatively smaller amounts than had been the case when Pauling was a fellow in the mid-1920s.

When he received his award, Pauling noted, he was granted $3,500, which was about $1,500 more than the sums offered by National Research Fellowships or the post-doctoral salaries then available at Caltech. By the time of Pauling’s 1952 letter, Caltech’s post-doctoral salaries had reached $4,000 to $4,500, and the pharmaceutical company Merck was providing grants of $6,000 plus travelling expenses. To keep up with this competition, Pauling thought Guggenheim Fellowships should generally average out to $6,000 plus travelling expenses.

Pauling sent a copy of his letter to Louis B. Wright, chair of the Committee of Selection. Wright agreed with Pauling’s point of view, noting that, increasingly, only scholars and scientists from wealthy schools equipped to grant sabbaticals were able to accept Guggenheim Fellowships. Wright, like Pauling, enjoyed the privilege of an extensive Guggenheim stay in Europe in 1928-1929, a trip that would only last six months in 1952 and not much longer were the person to stay at home. Given the choice, Wright felt it better to reduce the number of fellows and increase stipend sums granted.

Moe could not reply to either letter as he was still too tied up with his response to the Cox Committee. He would eventually address Pauling’s concerns, but first the two would need to resolve what developed into a major argument over how the Foundation had handled the Cox Committee questionnaire.