Pauling and the Peace Groups

Logo of the World Federation of Scientific Workers

[Part 1 of 2]

By 1950, largely as a result of information sharing between the FBI, the Tenney Committee, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and others, Linus Pauling’s name was high on the lists of congressional investigatory bodies harboring an interest in U.S. communist subversion. Because of his position and professional stature, Pauling was commonly referenced during discussions of communist infiltration within scientific institutions. Several consequences resulted from the attention, including a number of canceled speaking engagements across the country.

Most of the charges leveled against him were familiar, centering on his affiliation with suspected communists and communist fronts.  And over time the repercussions of these accusations began to escalate. As the controversies failed to abate, many of those close to Pauling professionally and otherwise – particularly Caltech president Lee DuBridge – became ever more weary of Pauling’s notoriety.

In spite of the difficulties that these attentions imposed upon him and the Institute, Pauling continued to produce substantive scientific research. He steadily published new findings, making especially impressive strides in his work with protein structures. Ironically, though he was continually bombarded by accusations of communist subversion in relation to his non-professional activities, his scientific work was simultaneously under ardent attack by Lysenko-era Soviet scientists. His theories were also being challenged by several leading British scientists, forcing him to spend a great deal of his time addressing criticism. Indeed, he was so busy at the height of this work that he postponed a trip to Europe and turned down a visiting professorship at Harvard.

Nonetheless, Pauling continued to receive widespread acclaim for his work. Among other honors at the time, he was invited to speak at an international scientific conference where he received spectacular coverage in the press. The positive coverage, as well as the success of his research, helped maintain the stability of Pauling’s position at Caltech.

Throughout most of the extended controversy surrounding his affiliations, Pauling remained a member and contributor to several different groups and causes. He gave what he could to those he deemed worthy and discriminated very little when choosing his associations – a tendency which often caused trouble with Caltech administrators and investigatory committees alike. One such controversial group was the National Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professions (NCASP), a national advocacy organization formed from the constitution of the Progressive Citizens of America. The organization was involved in Henry Wallace‘s presidential campaign with the Progressive Party – a campaign that Pauling supported and likely the primary motivation for Pauling’s membership.

The NCASP acted in the tradition of what it saw as the fight for national progress and welfare that had been assumed by American artists, scientists and professionals for most of the country’s history. Claiming basic non-partisanship but advocating for New Deal-era policies, the NCASP emphasized the important role of qualified individuals working in support of progressive political programs. The organization was intentionally composed of diverse professionals and supported peaceful governance, international cooperation, economic security, notions of universal equality, social welfare, and enforcement of constitutional rights. The NCASP made contributions to political campaigns, distributed educational material, conducted research and supported community activities. It also busied itself with the organization of peace conferences and petitions against abusive committee practices, and was heavily involved with protests against the persecution of the “Hollywood 10.”

Pauling also held membership in the American Association of Scientific Workers (AAScW), an American affiliate of the World Federation of Scientific Workers. The AAScW was founded primarily to strengthen the relationship between science, scientists and the rest of society. The organization sought to improve public education on scientific matters, safeguard the exercise of independent scientific endeavor and promote scientific involvement in the pursuit of public welfare. It was an organization of scientists parallel in scope and ideals to contemporary bodies in England and other parts of Europe. Pauling was first approached by the AAScW in 1939, however he declined admittance because of the organization’s opposition to American involvement in the growing European war. He later accepted a nomination as vice-president, and maintained steady contact with the organization’s action committees and national secretary.

The World Federation of Scientific Workers (WFSW) was made up of sixteen organizations of scientific workers from 14 different countries, including the U.S., Britain, the U.S.S.R., China, France and India. It was founded by members of the Association of Scientific Workers in Great Britain, and fully recognized by the United Nations as an international non-governmental organization. The WFSW was a strong advocate of international cooperation, especially as concerned nuclear technology and atomic weapons non-proliferation, but also sought the improvement of international relations through scientific institutions. It worked to organize scientists world-wide and establish higher principles for the social responsibility of scientific workers. The controversial organization held many international conferences, which were often opposed and obstructed by the national governments hosting them.  The group also published an official journal, Scientific World.

John Desmond Bernal, (1901-1971) a renowned British crystallographer, was very active in the organization. Bernal and his colleagues were competing with Pauling and his associates to further the analysis of protein structures, however the two men exercised mutual professional respect and maintained a lasting friendship. Indeed, one year after Bernal’s death, Pauling would write of his friend

He impressed me then [in 1930] as the most brilliant scientist that I had ever met, and I have retained this impression, which was substantiated by the many later discussions that I had with him.

Bernal was the author of The Social Function of Science, a book that was highly critical of predominant conceptions of scientific application, and an inspiration to Pauling amidst his future struggles. Pauling joined the WFSW near the beginning of the 1950s, but had little time to spare for practical participation. He volunteered as much of himself as he could after joining, but was more involved with the organization later in life as its acting Vice President.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll take a look at the price that Pauling paid for his membership in each of these groups and the pressures that ultimately led to his distancing himself from all three.


Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, 1910-1994

Linus Pauling and Dorothy Hodgkin, 1957.

[Part 1 of 2]

On May 12, 1910, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin – a renowned X-ray crystallographer and long-time friend of both Linus and Ava Helen Pauling – was born in Cairo, Egypt. In honor of the hundredth anniversary of her birth, today’s and Thursday’s posts will be devoted to the discussion of not only Hodgkin’s life and extensive contributions to the scientific community, but also her friendship to the Pauling family.

Although Dorothy Crowfoot was born in Egypt, her parents were English and she spent most of her childhood in the United Kingdom. When World War I began in 1914, she and her two sisters were taken to England, where they lived for a time with their grandparents. After the war, Dorothy’s mother, who had moved to Sudan from Cairo with her husband in 1916, decided to return to England to be with her daughters. In 1920 the family moved to Beccles, England, and in 1921 Crowfoot entered the Sir John Leman Grammar School. During her time there, her interest in science grew immensely.

In 1928, after spending a year studying Latin and botany, Dorothy began to focus on chemistry at Oxford’s Somerville College, where she quickly became interested in X-ray crystallography. In 1932 Crowfoot left Oxford for Cambridge to work under J.D. Bernal. Two years later she returned to Oxford and after another two years of study was appointed a research fellow there, a position that she held until 1977.  During her time at Oxford, Dorothy supervised the work of many students, including a young Clara Brink, whose papers now reside in the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections.

In 1937 Crowfoot married Thomas Hodgkin, with whom she had three children.

Throughout her lengthy scientific career, Hodgkin worked with great success on a wide variety of research projects pertaining to molecules such as sterols, vitamin B12 and insulin. She participated in the 1946 meetings that led to the formation of the International Union for Crystallography, and also became a member of various academies and societies, including the Royal Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In 1964 Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin received her highest decoration: the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances.” She also received the Order of Merit, the Lenin Peace Prize – for which she was nominated by Linus Pauling – the Copley Medal, and many other awards for her extensive research.

The first mention of Dorothy Hodgkin in the Pauling Papers appears in correspondence dated to 1947. In it, Pauling writes to Dr. H. Marshall Chadwell of the Rockefeller Foundation, asking for advice about Hodgkin, who will be coming to the U.S. in the fall on a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Pauling states that he has “known her work very well, and for a long time, and I have been looking forward to meeting her.” Not long after, Pauling and Hodgkin did meet, and they soon began personally exchanging letters. This process lasted essentially for the rest of their lives, and allows for direct observation of their developing friendship.

Letter from Pauling to Hodgkin, October 7, 1953.

Although much of the correspondence between Hodgkin and Pauling relates to research, they often discuss more personal matters. Alongside the numerous letters on Hodgkin’s work pertaining to Vitamin B12 and Pauling’s research on proteins, there are many letters discussing subjects such as health issues – not only their own but also those of their spouses – Pauling’s experience of being trapped on a cliff, and various travel plans – many of which set up visits to each other.

One specific letter of interest from Pauling to Hodgkin is dated September 14, 1955, in which Pauling writes

to congratulate you on the wonderful job that you have done on Vitamin B12. I find it hard to believe, although very satisfying, that the methods of x-ray crystallography can be used so effectively on such a complex molecule.

Hodgkin had begun work with the Vitamin B12 molecule in 1948.

Another interesting letter from Pauling to Hodgkin illustrates the extent to which the scientific viewpoint permeated Pauling’s thinking on a whole host of matters. In his letter dated January 27, 1959, Pauling thanks Hodgkin for a book that she had sent to him – Christopher Hill’s Puritanism and Revolution – and notes that “I have written to Christopher that I think that mad hatters are mad because of mercury poison – felt is made by treating the hair with mercuric nitrate. His chapter 11 is about a mad hatter.”

One last letter of note is written by Hodgkin on October 14, 1974, in which she informs Pauling that she “should be very happy indeed to be an Associate of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine.” In this same letter, Vitamin B12 makes another appearance, demonstrating the longevity of her work with the molecule. This time, Hodgkin sends a stereo print of her structure of the Vitamin B12 coenzyme, which she calls “the most important naturally occurring form of the vitamin.”

Hodgkin and Pauling, 1986.

Unfortunately, not every letter between Pauling and Hodgkin comes under happy circumstances. On December 15, 1981, Hodgkin writes to Pauling to mourn the death of Ava Helen, which had occurred on December 7. Some six months later, on June 4, 1982, Pauling writes to Hodgkin in order to express his sympathy after hearing that her husband Thomas had died.

Hodgkin’s leading work in the field of X-ray crystallography made her one of the most decorated and successful scientists of the twentieth century, as well as a pioneering example of the role that women could play in the laboratory. Although a deep interest in science may have initially introduced Hodgkin and Pauling, our brief look at the correspondence between the two shows that their professional relationship quickly evolved into a long-lasting friendship.

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin died on July 29, 1994, twenty-one days before Linus Pauling.

Check back on Thursday for our post on Hodgkin and Ava Helen Pauling, and make sure to visit the Linus Pauling Online portal for more information on Linus Pauling.