Pauling at UCSD: Season of Tumult



[Part 2 of 3 in a series exploring Linus Pauling’s years on faculty at the University of California, San Diego.]

As his program on orthomolecular psychiatry began to take off, Pauling’s work as an activist moved forward with as much zeal as ever. Despite criticism that his association with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI) and his protests against the Vietnam War made no sense in the context of his scientific career, Pauling had stopped viewing his interests as an activist and his scientific research as being separate branches of a single life.

Pauling happened to be at the University of Massachusetts a mere five days after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Invited to deliver a series of lectures as the university’s first Distinguished Professor, Pauling fashioned his remarks around the topic of the human aspect of scientific discoveries. Reflecting on the tumult of the previous week, Pauling told his audience that it was not enough to mourn the fallen civil rights leader. Rather, individuals of good conscience were obligated to carry King’s legacy forward by continuing the work that he began.

In keeping with this theme over the course of his lectures, Pauling emphasized the scientist’s responsibility to ensure that discoveries be used for the good of all humanity and society, rather than in support of war and human suffering. Scientific inquiry should also emphasize solutions to current issues, he felt, pointing to the lack of equality in access to medical care in the United States as one such issue. Pauling saw his work in orthomolecular medicine as potentially solving this problem: vitamins were fairly inexpensive, more accessible, and could, he believed, significantly improve one’s mental and physical well-being.


Notes used by Pauling for his talk, “The Scientific Revolution,” delivered as a component of the lecture series, “The Revolutionary Age, the Challenge to Man,” March 3, 1968.

Pauling made similar connections to his work on sickle cell anemia.

Though he was no longer involved in the daily operations of the CSDI, he continued to participate in a public lecture series that the center sponsored throughout his time in San Diego. In one contribution to a series titled “The Revolutionary Age: The Challenge to Man,” Pauling put forth a potential solution to sickle cell disease. As science had succeeded in identifying the gene mutation responsible for the disease, Pauling believed that forms of social control could be used to prevent carriers of the mutation from marrying and procreating. Over time, Pauling reasoned, the mutation would eventually be phased out.

Pauling specifically called for the drafting of laws that would require genetic testing before marriage. Should tests of this sort reveal that two heterozygotes (individuals carrying one normal chromosome and one mutation) intended to marry, their application for a license would be denied. Pauling put forth similar ideas about restricting the number of children that a couple could have if one parent was shown to be a carrier for sickle cell trait.

In proposing these ideas, Pauling aimed to ensure that his discovery of the molecular basis of sickle cell disease was used to decrease human suffering. Likewise, he felt that whatever hardships the laws that he proposed might cause in the short run, the future benefits accrued from the gradual elimination of the disease would justify the legislation.

Partly because he called this approach “negative eugenics,” Pauling came into harsh criticism for his point of view; indeed, his ideas on this topic remain controversial today. In a number of the lectures that he delivered around the time of his CSDI talk, however, Pauling took pains to clarify that his perspective was not aligned with the broader field of eugenics, a body of thought to which he was opposed. On the contrary, Pauling’s focus was purely genetic and his specific motivation was borne out of a desire to eliminate harmful genetic conditions.


Bruno Zimm. Credit: University of California, San Diego

At the end of February 1968, Pauling turned 67 year old, and the University of California regents used his age as a mechanism to hold up discussions about his obtaining a permanent appointment in San Diego. Sixty-seven, the board argued, was the typical retiring age within the UC system. Moreover, the UC regents were empowered to veto any age-related retirement exceptions and, given his radical political views, Pauling was unlikely to receive any support at all from the group, much less an exception.

One of the stated reasons why the regents harbored concerns about Pauling’s politics was his increasingly strident rhetoric. Pauling frequently commended student strikes and demonstrations, and although he emphasized nonviolence as the most effective means to foster social change, he encouraged students to recognize that authorities may incite violence through tactics of their own. In these cases, he felt that retaliation was justified, even necessary.

Pauling also believed that the regents and their trustees wielded too much power; for him they were part of a system that largely inhibited social progress and took power away from students. For their part, the regents saw Pauling in a similar light: a dangerously powerful radical who was constraining the university’s capacity to grow.

Realizing that, in all likelihood, Pauling was soon to be forced out, his UCSD colleagues Fred Wall and Bruno Zimm began searching for a way to shift the governing authority for his reappointment to the university president, Charles Hitch, with whom Pauling had maintained a positive relationship. After months of negotiations, Zimm succeeded in winning for Pauling a second year-long appointment.

Pauling expressed gratitude to Zimm for his efforts, but the slim possibility of a permanent position at UCSD had emerged as a source of lingering dismay. Looking for a longer term academic home, Pauling began considering other universities that might also provide better support for his research.

Over time, Ava Helen had also found herself frustrated with UCSD and La Jolla in general. In particular, she disliked their rental house and missed their previous home in Santa Barbara, where she had been able to tend a beautiful garden. As 1968 moved forward, the couple began spending more and more time at Deer Flat Ranch, with Ava Helen hinting that she would like to make the ranch their permanent home in the coming years.

Pauling’s Eulogy for Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we wrote at this time last year, Linus Pauling and Martin Luther King, Jr. had occasion to come into sporadic contact as they pursued their own avenues toward a more peaceful and just world.  The two exchanged a few letters and supported similar causes, including a 1965 appeal to stop the war in Vietnam.  The eldest Pauling child, Linus Jr., even lent his medical expertise to Freedom Marchers walking from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in March 1965.

Today we honor Dr. King’s memory by publishing, for the first time, a short manuscript that Pauling wrote and delivered on April 9, 1968, five days after King’s assassination.

Having arrived in Amherst, Massachusetts the day before to deliver a series of lectures for the University of Massachusetts’ Distinguished Visitors Program, Pauling likely had little time to collect his thoughts for what, one presumes, was a hastily arranged memorial to King’s life and legacy.

The resulting manuscript then, is unvarnished Pauling and much is revealed in its three pages.  Though Linus and Ava Helen – moving into their late-sixties and weary from the many battles fought over their twenty-plus years of peace work – were reducing their personae as activists, it is clear that their thinking was continuing to evolve well-beyond signature issues like weapons proliferation and radioactive fallout.  And so it is that we find Linus Pauling sharpening the radical edge of his rhetoric and sharing King’s concern with economic issues, as he remembers a man whom he greatly admired.

Page 1.

Dr. Martin Luther King was opposed to violence, to suppression, to the exploitation of man by man.  He devoted his life to justice and morality, to achieving true brotherhood of all men, to abolishing the evils of unrestrained selfishness and hate.

It is not enough for us to mourn him and to show our respect for him.

It is our duty to work to achieve the goals that he pointed out.

Military might, police might, the power of the assassin are being

Page 2.

used by our country to protect an evil economic and social system, based on inequality and injustice.

40 million Americans are miserably poor, with income less than one-fifth the average for their affluent fellow citizens.  This group, the miserably poor, includes half of our black people, but only one-sixth of our white people.

The world as a whole is worse.  2/3 of the people of the world live on 10% of the world’s income, $100 per year per person.

Page 3.

In South America, Southeast Asia, Greece, as well as at home, we have been using our great wealth and power to oppose progress, to oppose reform.

Now, let us pledge ourselves to follow the path of righteousness, the path shown to us by Dr. King.

Pauling’s Contacts with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Linus Pauling is recognized as one of the greatest peace activists of the 20th century. From the end of World War II until his death in 1994, Pauling was a central figure in the fight for nuclear disarmament and a great proponent of human rights. Though his primary focus was international peace and weapons reduction, he was a strong supporter of the civil rights and women’s liberation movements. Unsurprisingly, his political activities brought him in close contact with some of history’s greatest activists. In honor of today’s Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday anniversary, the Pauling Blog would like to discuss Pauling’s connection with King in the struggle for peace.

Pauling and King first met in 1960 while King was in Pasadena lecturing on racial equality. By the late 1950s, King had firmly established himself as a civil rights leader in the African American community through his organization of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1957 founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Pauling had witnessed King’s work in the southern U.S., and was much impressed with the energetic young man. Despite Pauling’s personal rejection of religion, a core value for King, the two men developed a mutual respect for one another, working in the parallel fields of civil rights and international peace, and often intersected at moments critical to the peace movement.

In late 1960, Pauling contacted King, requesting his support for a conference opposing the distribution of nuclear arms to the United States’ NATO allies. King responded promptly, emphasizing his belief in Pauling’s work. He noted that he could not attend the conference himself, but wrote “Always know, however, that you have my absolute support”.

In 1964, King wrote another letter to Pauling, congratulating him for his receipt of Temple Beth Zion’s Annual Passover-Liberty Award. In particular, King remarked that

This award, like many others that you have received, is indicative of the great respect and admiration that men of good will have for you for your brilliant and untiring efforts to make world peace a reality. I can think of no one who more justly deserves such significant honors. Your work and the use of your brilliant mind for such creative ends will stand out as one of the significant epics of the twentieth century. Your deep humanitarian concern, genuine good will, and your unswerving devotion to the cause of peace and justice will remain an inspiration to generations yet unborn.

The two men, though not close friends, were characterized by a number of striking similarities that no doubt provoked a certain kinship between them. Both men were academics, with Pauling having taken a doctorate in chemistry from Caltech and King a doctorate in Philosophy from Boston University. Both were well-read, highly-educated and known for their powerful public speeches.  And interestingly, neither Pauling nor King ever graduated from high school, despite being bright and capable students.

Likewise, both men fought against, and were persecuted by, the U.S. government and the mainstream American press. Throughout their respective careers, both men were dogged by accusations of Communism. Pauling was directly accused of Communist activity, while King’s advisers, Stanley Levison and Hunter Pitts O’Dell, were linked to the Communist party through House Un-American Activities Committee investigations and FBI informants. Neither man gave into the popular pressure, however, a shared stubborn resistance that partly explains their historical fame as activists.

In 1964 Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize, only two years after Pauling himself had received the award. In a letter to Gunnar Jahn, a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Linus noted that “We are very happy, as I am sure you are, that the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1964 to Martin Luther King has been received with such great approval. I was especially pleased that the people of Oslo were so enthusiastic, as reported in Time and Newsweek, and in the American newspapers, also.”

Linus Pauling was not the only member of the Pauling family engaged in King’s work. His oldest son, Linus, Jr., was also much impressed by the civil rights movement. On March 25, 1965, Linus, Jr. joined other activists in a four day march from Selma, Alabama, to the state’s capital of Montgomery. Linus, Jr., a licensed physician, provided medical care to other marchers along the way, and was even pictured in a Newsweek article chronicling the event.

It goes without saying that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has had a profound effect on the social, cultural and political landscape of the modern United States. His words and actions have served as a catalyst for some of the largest social changes that have occurred in the last fifty years, many of which are still, of course, in progress. Linus Pauling was proud to have been a part of these changes, and to have served to better the lives of those around him.

For more information on Linus Pauling and the Peace Movement, please visit our documentary history website.  Documents on that site that are relevant to Pauling’s relationship with Dr. King are as follows:

“Notice of Candidacy for the Electoral College.” 1964.

Note from Linus Pauling to Martin Luther King, Jr. March 18, 1965.

Letter from Linus Pauling to Martin Luther King, Jr. June 21, 1965.

“An Appeal by Recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.” 1965.

“Note to Self.” May 2, 1967.

The Paulings’ Later Peace Activism: Vietnam and the Gulf War

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling. San Francisco, California. 1960s

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling. San Francisco, California. 1960s

The peace activism of Linus and Ava Helen Pauling reached its crescendo in the late 1950s and early 1960s, beginning with the submission of their Bomb Test Petition to the United Nations in 1958 and ending with Linus Pauling’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in the 1963. As the turbulent 1960s moved forward, the weary Paulings reduced, however incrementally, their profiles as peace activists. That is not to say, however, that the duo completely exited the public stage — far from it, in fact. Two important events in U.S. history — one before Ava Helen’s death and one after — prompted first the duo, and later Linus alone, to raise their voices anew in support of their beliefs.


I am ashamed of my country, the United States of America. My country is the richest country in the world. It is the most powerful country in the world. My country now leads the world in militarism, and leads the world in immorality.”

-Linus Pauling, Note to Self, May 2, 1967.

The increasing U.S. involvement in Vietnam during the mid-1960s infuriated much of the American public, Linus and Ava Helen included. As a result, the two activists set out on yet another peace campaign, doing their best to gain the attentions of the political world.

As an attempt at mediating the conflict, Linus began to correspond directly with Ho Chi Minh, while simultaneously seeking (with limited success) to involve Lyndon Johnson in the communications. Pauling and seven other Nobel Peace Prize recipients, including Dr. Martin Luther King and Albert Schweitzer, also drafted an appeal to the U.S. government, advocating a peaceful resolution of the war in Asia. Linus and Ava Helen attended rallies and gave speeches in support of military de-escalation in Asia and U.S.-Soviet peace talks. Unfortunately, the Paulings’ strategies were largely ignored at the administrative level, leading the couple to seek out alternative methods.

In addition to his speaking campaign, Pauling began to publish anti-war articles. He wrote pieces enumerating the need for peace and the possible long term effects of the Vietnam War. Most astonishingly, in May of 1972, the Paulings went so far as to volunteer to become “peace hostages” as a means of mediating the violent situation, agreeing “to spend at least two weeks in Northern Vietnam until all the bombing of that area of the country stops and until all American military personnel and materiel are removed from Indochina.”

The Paulings’ calls for peaceful negotiation were never embraced by the Johnson administration. At the same time, the increasingly-radical American youth instead garnered the attention of both the media and the Oval Office. The petitions and marches of the 1950s and early 1960s had been overtaken by the activities of college-age protesters, in the process moving the Paulings further and further toward the margins of an international peace movement to which they had once been so important.

The Persian Gulf War

Linus Pauling in Corinto, Nicaragua. July 26, 1984

Linus Pauling in Corinto, Nicaragua. July 26, 1984

In a war you have opposing forces that fight and there are deaths on both sides, and finally one side wins. In the old days perhaps this was a demonstration of the democratic process — the side with the biggest number of fighters won. [The Persian Gulf War] wasn’t a war. This you could call a massacre or a slaughter, perhaps even murder.”

-Linus Pauling, “Reflections on the Persian Gulf ‘War,'” April 6, 1991.

After Ava Helen’s death in 1981, Linus Pauling continued the struggle for international peace, in part as a tribute to the ideals of his late wife. An opponent of President Reagan’s policies, he spoke out against the administration’s increasingly militaristic approach to international politics, campaigning in particular against the implementation of weapons systems like the “Star Wars” program, which Pauling viewed to be an utter waste of resources. It was in this vein that Pauling would continue to act, making hundreds of public appearances in support of numerous peace causes.

However, few events in his later years fully galvanized Pauling on the level of the Persian Gulf War, initiated in August 1990. Horrified by reports of extreme carnage, Pauling, nearing his ninetieth birthday, undertook a vigorous protest of Operation Desert Storm as his final stand as a figure for peace.

Paid New York Times advertisement by Linus Pauling.

Paid New York Times advertisement by Linus Pauling.

With the directness that had come to typify his peace work, Pauling sent letters to General Colin Powell and to President George H. W. Bush, demanding an end to the fighting. His letter to President Bush declared “TO KILL AND MAIM PEOPLE IS IMMORAL! WAR IS IMMORAL!” While Pauling may have aged and his body weakened since his fight against the Vietnam War, his convictions remained unchanged.

In 1991 Pauling released “Reflections on the Persian Gulf ‘War’,” a brief yet thorough list of concerns and grievances with both world politics and U.S. leadership. The document discussed the tactics and rationale for the war, the specific problems existing within the Persian Gulf region and, of course, the immorality of war as an institution. As unassuming as this small document was, it embodied the passions of a man who had dedicated more than half a century to the achievement of peace.

Read more about the Paulings’ Vietnam and Gulf War peace activism on the website “Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement.”