Dr. Mina Carson, Resident Scholar

Dr. Mina Carson and Judy Freeman following Carson’s Resident Scholar lecture.

Oregon State University Associate Professor of History Dr. Mina Carson is the third person this year to have presented work supported by the Resident Scholar Program at OSU Libraries.  A professor of American Social and Cultural History, Carson’s research interests have thus far included the Progressive and New Deal eras, the gay and lesbian movements and the recent history of women in music.  A licensed social worker, Dr. Carson has also written and lectured on the history of psychotherapy in western Europe and the United States.

Her latest project hits closer to home for those of us working in the Pauling collection:  Dr. Carson is in the early stages of researching and writing the first full-length biography of Ava Helen Pauling.

As she is just six months into what promises to be a lengthy project, Dr. Carson has thus far focused on identifying a few important themes that seem to have, at least in part, defined Ava Helen Pauling’s remarkable life.  Certain of these themes include

  • Ava Helen’s transformation into feminism – Dr. Carson’s preliminary research indicates that Ava Helen was not initially what might now be defined as a “complete feminist.”
  • The evolution of both Ava Helen and Linus from their early years as children reared in struggling single-parent homes, to a powerful couple who created a successful bourgeois household.
  • The emergence, in her sixties, of Ava Helen as a charismatic force within the peace and women’s movements, a development which led her to question some the choices that she made earlier in life, especially as concerned her acceptance of a conventional gender role within her marriage and household.
  • Ava Helen’s role in balancing the tensions that likely grew out of the pressures on Linus Pauling’s time, as peace activism began to envelop the scientific work that was his true professional love.

Ava Helen Pauling participating in the Marathon to Athens Peace March, Greece. May 1964.

Dr. Carson’s Resident Scholar presentation also raised a number of questions about how one goes about writing a biography of a figure like Ava Helen Pauling.  For one, there exists the temptation to write about Ava Helen chiefly as a means to shed further light on the life of Linus Pauling.  However, Ava Helen was an important historical figure in her own right and deserves to be treated as such.

On the same token, any biography of Ava Helen must likewise be a biography of the Pauling family – her’s was the life of the activist and the homemaker intertwined – so the work needs to incorporate an evaluation her roles as center of the household, family administrator and social spark plug.

Last but not least, the biographer of Ava Helen Pauling must wrestle with the difficulties of both writing about a person who lived in recent time (Ava Helen died in 1981) and also of trying to get a handle on the basics of Linus Pauling’s extraordinarily complex professional vita.

As Dr. Carson herself attested, much work lies ahead for this project.  We have no doubt, however, that the end result will constitute a major addition to what the chemist and historian Derek Davenport has termed “the Pauling canon.”

The Resident Scholar Program is generously supported by the Peter and Judith Freeman Fund.  Previous Resident Scholars have included Dr. Burtron Davis of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research, and Toshihiro Higuchi of Georgetown University.

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Paradowski’s Pauling Chronology

Ava Helen, Linus Jr. and Linus Pauling, 1930.

Ava Helen, Linus Jr. and Linus Pauling, 1930.

According to Zelek S. Herman ‘the best biography in my opinion is the short one by Pauling’s only authorized biographer, Robert J. Paradowski who has extensively studied Pauling’s scientific work and who knew him for many years.’ Unfortunately this biography/chronology, though written in English, was published in a hard-to-find Japanese volume. Paradowski’s 1972 University of Wisconsin Ph.D. thesis titled The Structural Chemistry of Linus Pauling is the only compulsively readable thesis that has come my way in a lifetime of sitting on M.S. and Ph.D. final orals. Subsequently Paradowski got to know Pauling intimately, was anointed as his authorized biographer, and has spent the last 20 years accumulating a unique store of knowledge concerning his subject. Since Paradowski writes well and has unusually catholic interests, the book – or rather books, since it will be in at least three volumes – should be well worth waiting for. But for how long? Paradowski tells me he definitely expects completion by the centennial year, 2001…. I hope I live to read it!

Derek Davenport, “The Many Lives of Linus Pauling: A Review of Reviews,” Journal of Chemical Education, 73 (9): A210.  September 1996.

Every year, in celebration of Linus Pauling’s birthday anniversary, we try to release a new project either on or near February 28th.  Nine years ago, we participated in the mounting of a small plaque in Oregon State University’s Education Hall Room 201, which identified the location where Linus and Ava Helen Pauling first met in 1922.  The next year marked the Pauling Centenary and a large day-long conference was held in honor of the occasion.  Since then, most of our birthday releases have come in the form of websites – Linus Pauling Research Notebooks in 2002, The Race for DNA in 2003, Awards, Honors and Medals in 2004, and an expanded version of Linus Pauling and the Nature of the Chemical Bond in 2008.

The 2009 release is Robert Paradowski‘s The Pauling Chronology, a 27-page TEI-based web resource, the content of which Derek Davenport referenced in the 1996 quote above.  The Chronology is being advertised as “the most detailed overview of Linus Pauling’s ancestry, life and work available on the web,” a statement that we feel can be made without hesitation.  As Davenport notes, Paradowski enjoyed the most-unfettered access to Pauling of any of his at-least four biographers, and has compiled what is surely the most extensive compilation of biographical interviews conducted with Pauling and his associates.

Consquently, it is chiefly Paradowski upon whom we must rely to fill in certain scarcely-documented eras of Pauling’s life, particularly his early years as a boy in Condon and Portland, and as a young man at Oregon Agricultural College.

As a web resource, the Chronology likewise addresses certain major topics that have yet to be properly explored by other members of the Pauling online collective (ourselves, of course, included).  Pauling’s historic program of research on the structure of proteins, for instance, while touched upon in The Race for DNA, has not yet received the attention that it deserves, at least in terms of an Internet presence.  The Chronology helps to remedy this situation.  Even moreso, Pauling’s controversial infatuation with vitamin C, as well as the unsteady early history of the institute which bears his name, receive a fair and thorough treatment in Paradowski’s write-up.

Paradowki’s knowledge of subject and skill as a writer shine through in his Chronology, traits which lend ever-increasing urgency to Davenport’s crucial question, “But for how long?”  The centennial year has clearly come and gone with no major biography published and no hints that it might soon be on the way.  No hints, that is, except, perhaps, this passage that Dr. Paradowski used to close the talk that he gave at the 2001 Centenary conference:

Toward the end of [Pauling’s] life, someone had sent him a Bible with gigantic print.  He was having trouble with his vision, but because this book had such gigantic print he was reading the Bible again….  And perhaps he ran into this passage in Ecclesiastes, and I’d like to quote it as my finish:  “Let us search then like those who must find, and find like those who continue to search, for it is written the man who has reached the end is only beginning.”  And that’s the way I feel about my work on Pauling – no matter how much I do, it seems like I’m just beginning.

The Pauling Chronology and the transcribed video of a 1995 talk by Dr. Robert Paradowski are both available via the Linus Pauling Online portal.