Women’s Liberation, a Cruise to Acapulco and a Visit to Cuba: The 1970s

Ava Helen Pauling with participants at the Congress of Women of America. Bogota, Colombia, July 1970.

[Part 4 of 5]

After visiting Chile for the Technical University’s Summer School in 1970, Linus and Ava Helen Pauling traveled to Latin America several more times throughout the decade.  In July 1970, Ava Helen visited Bogotá, Colombia on a rare solo trip, to participate in the Third Congress of Women of America. The Congress was held by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and lasted for five days.

WILPF was founded in1915 by a group of women from twelve countries and has worked for peace and gender equality ever since then. Key objectives for the Colombian League in 1970 included women’s rights, especially concerning marriage and divorce, and the education of women. Topics discussed at the Third Congress included the relationship between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., the Colombian economy, population control, the equitable use of resources, and balancing the distribution of wealth. The group also addressed the economic plight of Colombian women and social problems such as sexual taboos, complete education and family planning.

The Paulings next went to Tijuana, Mexico, in March 1972 for a conference sponsored by the Chemistry Association of Tijuana, where Linus received a certificate of appreciation and attended various meetings. While there he also gave his speech “Science and the Future of Humanity,” a version of which he had delivered two years earlier in Chile.

Ava Helen also gave a speech in Tijuana, titled “The Liberation of Women.” In her talk, Ava Helen first noted that the last fifteen years had seen an increase in the struggle for the liberation of oppressed people all over the world, including women, and that “[t]he Women’s Movement has developed so rapidly that it is difficult to keep up with their various activities.” A small grievance, but one about which she felt strongly, was the difference in titles for women and men – “Miss,” if a woman is unmarried and “Mrs.” if they are married, while men are always simply called “Mr.” Although this was a minor problem, Ava Helen said, she would rather be called “Ms.”

She then listed four demands that had attained currency within the women’s liberation movement. The first was that women should receive equal pay for equal work; according to Ava Helen, in 1965, women received only 60 percent of the salary of men, for the same work. The second demand was equal opportunity in employment, without discrimination. Third, the movement wanted working women to have access to 24-hour child care centers “[i]n order to do their jobs well.” The fourth and final demand was free and freely available abortion. “Women are demonstrating in all countries for the repeal of abortion laws,” said Ava Helen, specifically citing the 1971 Women’s National Abortion Action Coalition demonstration in Washington D. C., in which 3,000 women participated.

Along with these four demands, Ava Helen also presented a collection of major concerns being discussed within women’s liberation circles.  These included “nutrition in general, nutrition for the pregnant woman, free lunches for school children, nursery schools, adequate housing, and a guaranteed income for everyone.”

Ava Helen finished her speech by suggesting that, “[women] are becoming politically sophisticated and ever more aware that they, in working for their own freedom from discrimination and oppression, are working for the freedom of all humankind.” On that note, it was clear that Ava Helen and Linus were on the same page politically, which was to be expected since Ava Helen was a guiding force behind much of her husband’s activism.

Linus Pauling aboard the S. S. Fairsea, April 1977.

The next time the Paulings returned to Latin America, it was purely for scientific reasons, although it may have appeared otherwise. Linus was invited to give two lectures while on the Preventive Medicine Cruise to Mexico in 1977, which went from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta, and from there to Acapulco and Mazatlan. The cruise included sixty passengers and lasted for ten days, from April 13th to the 23rd, although the Paulings only took part until April 18th, owing to prior engagements.

In his two lectures aboard the S.S. Fairsea, Pauling discussed biochemical specificity in nature, massive doses of vitamin C in alleviating cancer distress, and biochemical individuality and immunology. Other lecturers on the cruise included Theron Randolph, a physician allergist, and Virginia Livingston Wheeler, a physician who specialized in cancer research. The trip curriculum consisted of a thirty-hour educational program in the sub-specialties of preventive and orthomolecular medicine, as well as clinical ecology and cancer immunology.

A year later, in 1978, the Paulings returned to Latin America, this time to Havana, Cuba, to take part in the Fifth Cuban Congress on Oncology, which ran from March 19-27.  There Pauling gave a talk titled, “Nutrition and Cancer,” in which he discussed the benefits of ingesting vitamin C and other nutrients in order to increase cancer survival times. He noted that

[a]s much as 75 grams of vitamin C per day has been administered, both intravenously and orally, to patients with advanced cancer, and there is some evidence that the larger intakes are considerably more effective than the usual intake of 10 grams per day.

After giving his lecture, Linus and Ava Helen enjoyed a fun next few days, attending a recital featuring the National Ballet of Cuba, enjoying the music of a Cuban Folklore Ensemble and going to the nightclub “Tropicana.” For the Paulings, this trip was the culmination of a long desire to see Cuba, a wish that had always been thwarted previously, due to the U.S. blockade of its communist neighbor.

Later that same year, Linus was invited to be the guest of honor at the Second International Vitamin C Symposium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Pauling gave the opening speech on August 24, and voiced his belief that the world was entering into the Megavitamin or Orthomolecular Age. He also acted as chairman of a workshop on Vitamin C and cancer research. The purpose of the Brazil gathering was to discuss the role of vitamin C in virus diseases, lipid metabolism, cancer, neurological diseases, and diseases associated with collagen. Pauling accepted the honor of delivering the closing address of the symposium as well.

As they traveled to different parts of Latin America in the 1970s, Linus and Ava Helen were a team to be reckoned with: together they advocated for women’s rights, presented on the issue of overpopulation, spoke out against militarism, and spread information about cancer and the effectiveness of vitamins in increasing good health. Emboldened by their combined knowledge and principals, they proved a powerful duo in their quest to make the world a better place.

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The 1960s: The Nuclear-Free Zone, Oppression in Argentina and Molecules in Mexico

Illustration appearing in El Mercurio (Santiago, Chile), January 1962.

[Part 2 of 5]

In January 1962, Linus Pauling visited Chile in order to give an address at the Seventh International Summer School at the University of Concepción, and also to accept a certificate of honorary membership in the Chilean Society of Chemistry, one of many such honorary memberships that he received during his lifetime. While in Chile, the Paulings participated in the Summer School and also visited the Catholic University, the Technical University, the University of Chile in Santiago, the Experimental Station of the Institute of Agronomy in Chillán, and several other scientific institutions. Both Linus and Ava Helen gave lectures at many of the institutions they visited.

The theme of the Concepción Summer School was “The Man of Today, His Problems and His Future.” Pauling gave the opening address, titled “The Impact of Science on Man of Today and Man of the Future.” In this lecture, Pauling expressed his belief that mankind had accumulated enough knowledge to control the world instead of being controlled by it, but that with this knowledge came the power to destroy civilization. He thesis was a familiar one to those who had followed Pauling’s activism:

I believe in the philosophy of humanism – that the chief end of human life is to work for the happiness of man upon this earth, to work for the welfare of all humanity, to apply new ideas, scientific progress, for the benefit of all men – those now living and those still to be born.

One factor that works against the happiness of man, Pauling believed, is the variation in income which exists worldwide – a few people live in luxury while many suffer in poverty. He pointed out that economic injustice is “perpetuated by the oppressive powers of dictatorial governments,” and expressed his hope that these oppressive governments would give way to liberal and democratic governments.

In the same speech, Pauling also commented on the rapid progress of science and the new understanding of diseases caused by gene mutation, such as sickle-cell anemia and phenylketonuria. Some gene mutations, he added, are caused by the presence of radioactive materials released by nuclear bomb testing. Pauling continued, “I come now to the greatest of all the problems raised by the progress of science – the problem of preventing the destruction of civilization in a nuclear war.” He noted that the U. S. was in possession of 100,000 megatons of bombs, while only 20,000 megatons would be needed to decimate Russia. Likewise, Pauling estimated that the Soviets had produced 50,000 megatons of bombs, but that just 10,000 would be enough to destroy the U. S.

Pauling stressed to his Chilean audience that a nuclear war would not only destroy the U. S. and Russia, but would affect the Southern Hemisphere as well, in the form of nuclear fallout and genetic mutations. The only way to proceed in order to save the human race, Pauling concluded, was through complete disarmament, which must be supported not only by nations, but by individual people as well. “The survival of the whole human race now depends upon whether or not we can work together for the common good,” he concluded, stressing that world peace can only be achieved if nations adopt the moral values of individuals. After spending almost three busy weeks in Chile, Linus and Ava Helen returned home to California on January 22.

When Hurricane Flora hit Cuba in 1963, pounding the country for four days, Pauling attempted to visit in order to provide emergency disaster relief. However, the U.S. government did not allow him to travel to the Communist country, so instead, he and Ava Helen had to settle for supporting the Cuban people from afar. Pauling was also a member of Fair Play for Cuba, which was an organization that protested the trade embargo that the U.S. had placed on Cuba.

That same year, Linus was invited by Professor N. Matkovsky, of the International Institute for Peace in Vienna, to visit the leaders of various Latin American countries. The purpose of the visit was to support the presidents of Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile and Mexico in their publication of a declaration to make all of Latin America a nuclear-free zone. The declaration had been signed by the five countries on May 1st, 1963, and would lead to the ratification of the Treaty of Tlatelolco in 1967, which would prohibit nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, and include thirty-three parties. Linus and Ava Helen accompanied Professor Matkovsky on his mission as guest observers, but they also had the opportunity to meet with the leaders of a few countries. Delegations took place on August 15 in Rio de Janeiro; the Paulings stayed in Brazil for about 3 days, and flew to Chile on the 20th.

Linus Pauling and Arturo Illia, as published in Consejo Argentino de la Paz, October 1963.

Later in August, Pauling spoke with Arturo U. Illía, the President-elect of Argentina, to address the prevention of a devastating war and the preservation of peace in the world. A few days after he spoke with Illía, Pauling gave a speech to Pharmacy and Biochemistry faculty at the National University of Argentina entitled “Molecular Structure and Evolution.”

A month after the Paulings returned home, they learned that more than fifty women workers for peace in Rosario, Argentina had been arrested, some of them individuals to whom the Paulings had spoken during their visit to Buenos Aires. Linus wrote a letter to Illía, asking him to take action on the arrest of the women. In the letter, Pauling named a few of the women that he and Ava Helen had met and demanded that they and the rest of the women be set free. He also expressed concern about the extreme action the government had taken in recent weeks.

I have been hoping that, after a period during which the authorities of the Republic of Argentina suppressed the rights of individual human beings and carried out many oppressive actions, your nation would take its place among the civilized nations of the world, would recognize the rights of individual human beings, and would abandon the dictatorial and oppressive policies that are characteristic of governments in backward nations.

He echoed his appeal in letters to the current President at the time, Arturo Mor Roig, and to Raul Andrada, a judge in Argentina’s federal court, but his entreaties went ignored.

Pauling's greeting to the National School of Chemical Sciences, Mexico, as reprinted in Gaceta de la Universidad, July 13, 1964.

Pauling’s next visit to Latin America came about in May 1964, to help celebrate the Congress of the Centenary of the National Academy of Medicine in Mexico City. At the Academy, Pauling gave a speech as the guest of honor, “Abnormal Hemoglobin Molecules and Molecular Disease.” In this talk, he first established that the molecules that make up our DNA are the most important molecules in the world, since “[t]he pool of human germ plasm is a precious heritage of the human race.” Pauling then discussed various molecular diseases, such as phenylketonuria, which was responsible at the time for one percent of the institutionalized “mentally defective” individuals in the U. S.

According to Pauling, the disease occurs when both the mother and the father of an infant carry a gene for phenylketonuria, in which case the offspring has a fifty percent chance of inheriting the defective gene. If the infant does inherit the gene, he or she would have it in a double dose, which would inhibit him or her from being able to manufacture the enzyme that catalyzes the oxidation of phenylalanine to tyrosine. As a result, if the infant ate a food containing protein, phenylalanine would build up in the bloodstream and interfere with the growth and function of the brain. The only way to treat this disease, Pauling continued, is to eat a diet of protein hydrosylate from which most of the phenylalanine has been removed. This treatment must be carried out within the first year of life, or mental retardation occurs, and the diet must be followed for the rest of the patient’s life.

After detailing the dangers and the solutions for phenylketonuria, Pauling held that, likewise, other molecular diseases could be controlled, such as sickle-cell anemia. Sickle-cell anemia is similar to phenylketonuria in that it is a molecular disease, but different in that individuals who carry only one sickle-cell gene, called heterozygotes, are protected against malaria.

Pauling rounded out his trip to Mexico by delivering another talk, titled “Molecules and Evolution,” at the National School of Anthropology.  Pauling also spent a great deal of his time in Mexico discussing the devastating effects of nuclear war, repeating his conviction that the United Nations should have custody and control of radioactive substances produced by the United States and Russia.  This work done, the Paulings left Latin American behind for a while, not returning to the region until a trip to Chile in 1970.  That visit will be the subject for our next post in this series.

The Paulings in Latin America, 1940s – 1950s

La Prensa, (Mexico City) September 6, 1949.

[Part 1 of 5]

Throughout his long career as a scientist and peace advocate, Linus Pauling’s work took him all over the world, not excluding Latin America, to which he traveled multiple times. In fact, of the nineteen countries which today constitute Latin America, the only ones which Pauling did not visit were Ecuador, Honduras, Paraguay and Uruguay.

During his trips to the southern hemisphere he typically gave speeches on familiar topics including hemoglobin, the architecture of molecules, orthomolecular medicine, nuclear weapons and, of course, vitamin C. He also frequently advocated for human rights, speaking out against the incarceration of intellectuals in Argentina in the 1960s, urging the leaders of Latin America to resist the acquisition of nuclear weapons, and stressing the necessity for world peace and cooperation. Along the way, Pauling also received many awards, including membership in the Chilean Chemistry Society, the National Medal of the Chilean Senate and honorary citizenship of Puerto Rico.

In September 1949, on one of his earliest trips to Latin America, Pauling traveled to Mexico City to attend the Western Continental Congress for Peace. At the conference, Pauling delivered an address as the United States delegate, as well as a second speech titled, “Man – An Irrational Animal.”

In his delegate’s address, Pauling pointed out that the purpose of the conference was to work towards “permanent, world-wide peace” as well as to foster more effective cooperation between the people of the Americas. From his perspective as a scientist, Pauling felt that he could see order everywhere in the natural world, except for the seeming self-destructiveness of the human race. Pauling felt that the fight for peace included the fight for human rights, and that it was every individual’s responsibility to contribute. However, he believed that scientists should play a special role, suggesting that “the world looks to science for the ultimate solution of the threatening natural problems that menace it.”

At the Mexico City conference, Pauling also argued that scientists needed more freedom in order to focus their energy on solving problems such as world hunger, rather than on the preparation for and conducting of war. He likewise stressed that the United Nations needed to be more powerful, so that it could not be dominated by one or two great powers. To do this, Pauling rationalized, participating nations should transfer part of their sovereignty to the UN in order to form a democratic world government. At the end of the address, Pauling again stressed that world peace must be a democratic and collective undertaking, proclaiming that

It is we, the people, who now have the duty of working for peace, for the welfare and happiness of human beings everywhere. If another devastating world war comes, it will be because we, the people of the world, have failed. We must not fail.

On the same day that he delivered his address as a delegate, Pauling also gave a second speech “Man – An Irrational Animal.” In this talk, he reiterated his “deep interest in the structure of the material world,” and appreciation of the harmony and the workings of nature, but again suggested that the world of man was an anomaly to nature’s pattern of balance and structure. Pauling lamented that “we see groups of men, who make up the nations of the world, devoting the material wealth of the world and the intellectual powers of man, the ‘rational’ animal, not for the welfare of mankind, but for destruction.”

He attributed most of the problems that existed during the time to the struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States, pointing out that nearly ten percent of the world’s income was being used for war or preparation for war. He also stressed that, in the U. S., the fear of communism or any form of liberal thought was prohibiting many scientists from finding work in universities and the private sector alike. Pauling’s solution to the problems of the era was to propose that more funds be channeled toward UNESCO’s peace efforts, and that less be spent on war.

Pauling’s participation in the Mexico City assembly managed to rankle both the U. S. government as well as his fellow delegates.  As it turns out, unbeknownst to Pauling, the Western Continental Congress for Peace was  a Communist-organized gathering, and was accurately criticized as such back home.  In biographer Thomas Hager‘s words,

…that, of course, did not bother the Paulings.  They loved Mexico City – Ava Helen was becoming an admirer of folk art from around the world and spent time combing the mercados for pieces to add to her collection – but were less enthusiastic about the meeting, which seemed to consist of speech after long-winded speech defending the Soviet Union and attacking the United States.  His keynote address ranged from standard socialist anti-imperialism…to a purposeful and carefully evenhanded denouncement of both the United States’ and USSR’s policies of curtailing freedom and preparing for war.  The audience, expecting another one-sided attack on the Yankees, responded with lukewarm applause.

Pauling’s next visit to Latin America came about in May 1955, when Linus and Ava Helen were invited to a conference at the University of Puerto Rico by the Chancellor of the University, Jaime Benitez. At the meeting, Pauling gave three speeches: “The Hemoglobin Molecule in Health and Disease,” “The Structure of Proteins,” and “Technology and Democracy.”

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling posing with an unidentified group. Los Canos, Puerto Rico, 1955.

In “Technology and Democracy” – of the three, the only talk that he did not give on a regular basis to many other groups – Pauling commented that it was impossible for people to consider themselves “cultured” if they did not know about the sciences as well as about the rest of the world. He argued that “non-scientists, too, should be people of culture who have an understanding of the world, and this they cannot be without a knowledge of science.” Pauling also urged that more science be included in the curricula of elementary schools, and at a more advanced level. Pauling felt that people should be more interested in science because “knowledge of the nature of the world in which we live contributes to our happiness.”

Pauling’s trips to Mexico and Puerto Rico were just the beginning of an extensive political and scientific relationship that he maintained with Latin America.  In the coming weeks, we will take a closer look at several of his Ava Helen’s many visits to countries south of the border, from the 1960s through the 1980s.