Spitzer: The Aftermath

Ralph Spitzer.

[Part 3 of 3]

Following the dismissal of both Ralph Spitzer and L. R. La Vallee, one newspaper described Oregon State College as “a battle ground” for the heavily debated topic of academic freedom. The newspaper explained that in the minds of many people, any alliance with the party of Henry Wallace was synonymous with being a communist.

Meanwhile, OSC President August Strand’s vague rationale for having dismissed Spitzer and Strand continued in his address to the college’s Faculty Committee.  In this talk, dated February 23, 1949, Strand hinted through his word choice that the duo’s discharge was politically based.

Specifically, Strand said that Spitzer’s dismissal was not motivated by his Progressive Party membership, but rather because he had followed the Communist party line through his support of an untenable scientific thesis, the Lysenko theory of genetics, which de-emphasizes the role that genetics plays in heredity and, in simple terms, suggests that environmental factors are more prone to shaping individual characteristics. While Lysenko’s work was focused mainly on agriculture, the Soviet apparatus used his thinking to forward the notion that life in a socialist state might cleanse the proletariat of certain bourgeois tendencies.

In his speech Strand also touched on the question of academic freedom, while at the same time asking a question of his own: “how about freedom from party line compulsion?”

The Oregon State College Daily Barometer, February 24, 1949.

Strand’s evidence for his assault on Spitzer’s alleged Lysenkoism was a letter published by Spitzer in Chemical and Engineering News in response to an H. J. Muller editorial claiming that science was being destroyed in the Soviet Union. Strand felt that the letter demonstrated Spitzer’s support for Lysenko, in deference to what he must have known to be scientific truth.

For his part, Spitzer found it ridiculous that he was being labeled a communist just for arguing on behalf of a Soviet scientific theory. He also felt that Strand’s statement proved that his dismissal was based on political grounds and was a clear infringement of academic freedom.

In a one-page typewritten statement, Spitzer made his case:

I did not support Lysenko in my letter; in any case, it is absurd to reason that agreement with a Soviet scientific theory is evidence of adherence to a party line….I did not stir up controversy, but rather commented on an editorial on Soviet genetics. The editorial was by a chemist, in a chemical journal, and was discussed by two other chemists in the same issue.

On February 28, 1949, five days after the President’s address, Linus Pauling wrote a letter to  Strand, stating that he was “greatly disturbed” by the failure to continue the appointment of Dr.  Spitzer. Pauling wrote not only as a friend of Spitzer’s, but as a graduate of OSC, as president of the American Chemical Society (which declined to intervene in the case) and as a man involved in the educational system. Pauling also felt that it was his duty as an American citizen to take an active interest in politics and that Spitzer had a similar right and duty. Pauling concluded by urging Strand to reconsider his actions.

Pauling received a response from Strand on March 4, stating that the letter written by Spitzer in Chemical and Engineering News “showed beyond question that he was devoted to Communist party policy regardless of evident truth.” Strand continued, “How far need we go in the name of academic freedom? How stupid need we be and just how much impudence do we have to stand for to please the pundits of dialectical materialism?” Strand concluded by stating

If by this action, Oregon State College has lost your respect and support, all I can say is that your price is too high.  We’ll have to get along without your aid.

Pauling’s letter, as well as Strand’s stern response, were both published in the OSC newspaper, The Daily Barometer, and later reprinted in Chemical and Engineering News, but no direct action was taken.

Author Suzanne Clark, in her book Cold Warriors: Manliness on Trial in the Rhetoric of the West, wrote of what followed.

Spitzer defended himself vigorously, if with a degree of innocence about the growing power of those who would finally be enlisted to anticommunism. He pointed out that cases such as his own served to damage academic freedom in hundreds of invisible ways as faculty members learned to be afraid. Spitzer immediately turned to the AAUP on campus, which declared itself without jurisdiction, and asked the Appeals Committee of the OSC Faculty Council to investigate. He made four points: the head of the chemistry department was not consulted; the acting head had no complaints about his work; he had been promised a leave for a fellowship; and he had been promoted to associate professor.

But Spitzer’s attempts to save his job did not bear fruit. In a report on the Spitzer and La Vallee cases issued by the Faculty Committee on Reviews and Appeals, it was revealed that the desirability of reappointing Dr. Spitzer or of granting him a leave of absence during 1949-1950 had been questioned the previous October. Likewise, the decision not to tender reappointment was a culmination of various consultations on departmental, school, and institutional levels extending over the preceding several months, none of which officially pertained to political party affiliation. The committee concluded that President Strand acted entirely within his administrative rights and in the discharge of his official duties in the decision not to renew the appointments of the dismissed junior faculty members.

The final decision raised awareness among students at OSC, prompting editorials to be published in The Daily Barometer, urging students to get involved and understand the implications that such an action had on them. One student wrote,

It means that compliance to ‘accepted’ political thought is required of our college professors. It means that any person who disagrees with either Democratic or Republican party platforms is not a fit person to teach in this institution. It means that Dr. Einstein wouldn’t be allowed to teach our physics department since he has been active in supporting the Progressive Party. For the same reason, Dr. Linus Pauling, OSC graduate and present head of the American Chemical Society, would be considered unfit to teach here.

The conflict also led to national-level stories, including one written by John L. Childs in The Nation, titled “Communists and the Right to Teach.” Among other details, the article noted that a recent National Commission on Educational Reconstruction meeting had determined that “membership in the Communist Party is not compatible with service in the educational institutions of the United States.”

Spitzer and La Vallee both made one final return to OSC on May 26, 1949 to speak about “Your Stake in Academic Freedom.” The event was publicized on campus as “the story the Barometer didn’t print.”

The debate over academic freedom raged on well into the 1950s and ’60s, and life after OSC for Ralph and Terry Spitzer was a bit of a challenge. Spitzer applied widely for academic jobs across the country, applications which invariably were met for an explanation as to the reasons for his departure from Corvallis.  Oftentimes these institutions also consulted with Strand, who only offered negative words on Spitzer.

Unemployment and passport controversies plagued Spitzer until he was eventually hired in 1951 by the University of Kansas City as a chemistry professor.  He and Terry later moved to Canada, where Ralph obtained an M.D.  The couple eventually settled in British Columbia where Ralph enjoyed a long career in medical research.

Ralph and Terry Spitzer, ca. 1970s.

For Pauling the Spitzer incident was a bitter pill and one that did damage to his relationship with his alma mater.  In a letter written to an OSC colleague in April 1959, Pauling summed up his feelings at the time

I wish that I could accept your invitation to me to participate in the symposium that you are planning, but I have decided, a number of years ago, that I would not return to the Oregon State College so long as the last word that I had from President Strand was his statement, published in the Barometer, that Oregon State would get along without me in the future.

And so it was that Pauling made no official visit to his undergraduate campus from 1937 to December 1966, when he returned to deliver an address on “Science and the Future of Man.” Pauling’s talk was delivered some five years after the retirement of August Strand from the presidency of what was, by then, known as Oregon State University.

Ralph Spitzer: The Firing

Ralph Spitzer receiving a certificate from the United States Navy, 1948.

[Part 2 of 3]

During Ralph Spitzer’s time as a professor at Oregon State College, he became increasingly interested in social problems, particularly concerning the atomic bomb.  In a letter, Spitzer informed his mentor Linus Pauling that ever since early September 1945, when Dr. George Kistiakowsky spoke to a group at Wood’s Hole about the atomic bomb, he had been devoting larger portions of his time and thought to social concerns.

Spitzer realized that his efforts were limited due to his lack of knowledge about international affairs and he began to think of ways in which he could make a bigger impact in order to “preserve peace and civilization.” One outgrowth of this was a visit to Reed College that may have been partly responsible for the formation of the Portland Association of Scientists.  Spitzer also planned to apply for a fellowship abroad in which he could study economics and philosophy, as well as physical chemistry.

The 1948 presidential election was likewise beginning to play a large role in Spitzer’s life as he became an active supporter of Henry Wallace. In Spitzer’s view, “a whopping big vote for Wallace, whether he wins or not, would serve notice that our bipartisan foreign policy of preparing to win the next war was not what the American people wanted.” It was at this point that Spitzer asked Pauling to nominate him for the overseas fellowship, expressing his hope that he would be back home in time to participate in the presidential campaign.

Pauling recommended Spitzer as “nearly an ideal man for such a job, combining as he does a sound understanding of the physical sciences and a keen interest in social sciences. He is just the sort of man that we must interest in the social sciences.” In Pauling’s estimation, Spitzer’s work was “characterized by unusually good common sense and insight.”

Unfortunately for Spitzer’s ambitions, August Strand, the President of Oregon State College at the time, disagreed.

Ralph and Terry Spitzer, April 1949.

On February 8, 1949, Strand called Ralph Spitzer and his wife Terry, an undergraduate, into his office. The purpose of this summons was to inform Spitzer that his contract would not be renewed because “he had become much more interested in ‘other matters’ than he was in teaching chemistry.” Ralph Spitzer, thirty years old at the time, was told that there was no question of his ability and that he was not delinquent in his duties to the chemistry department.

Terry’s presence was necessary because Strand was also there to tell her that the Progressive Party group on campus, of which Terry was a member, would have to cancel their scheduled meeting on account of Strand’s disapproval of their guest speaker. The question had also been raised as to whether or not Terry, an outspoken activist and education student at OSC who influenced her husband’s views on progressive politics, was a greater threat to the campus than was Spitzer himself.

Within a few days, the story of Spitzer’s firing spread across campus and appeared in many regional newspapers. For its part, the OSC Appeals Committee fully supported Strand in his decision due to the fact that Spitzer was an Associate Professor and had not yet earned tenure. It was within the legal right of the President to refuse to renew Spitzer’s contract without any reasons given, just so long as political activity was not specifically identified as the cause for firing.

Spitzer promptly wrote to Pauling, detailing his experience of being called into Strand’s office. In his letter he emphasized that he was assured that there was no question of competency involved, and that he was not being delinquent in his duties to the chemistry department. Spitzer continued by encouraging Pauling to get involved, writing

I think if we can smash these attacks on academic freedom and out their democratic rights in the next few years, we can fight off fascism permanently. I am sure you are working hard on this problem and hope that it is possible for you to lend a little assistance.

Pauling responded that he was shocked to learn that Spitzer’s contract would not be renewed and added that he would do everything that he could to get to the bottom of the matter and to assist Spitzer. He also requested more information before writing to President Strand, making sure that he had the details of the incident clear. He would later write to Strand in Spitzer’s defense, specifying that he did not agree completely with Spitzer on questions relating to politics, but that he did support him in his right to hold his beliefs.

Oregon State College President August Strand, 1947.

Within days of the firing, stories were published with headlines reading, “Strand Lashes at Commie Professors” and “Dismissed Educators Just ‘Not Wanted,’ Says OSC Head.” In the first headline, “professors” refers to Spitzer and to an Assistant Professor of economics, Dr. L. R. La Vallee, who was also not given a reason for non-renewal of his contract, but was reassured that his academic work had been satisfactory.

So why did the President of Oregon State College essentially fire Ralph Spitzer and L. R. La Vallee? Initially Strand indicated that he did have reasons for the dismissal but that he would not make them public. “I don’t have to give them a statement,” Strand said, “because that is precisely what they want.”

As we will see however, a speech by Strand, editorials debating the issue and letters pouring into the President’s office prolonged the discussion, eventually revealing the motivations underlying August Strand’s actions.

The Story of Ralph Spitzer

Ralph Spitzer, 1948.

[Part 1 of 3]

Described by Linus Pauling as an “unusually able man,” Ralph Spitzer was a chemistry professor at Oregon State College (predecessor to Oregon State University) from 1946 – 1949. Spitzer met Pauling in 1937, when he was a senior undergraduate student at Cornell University, where Pauling was teaching at the time as a Visiting Lecturer. Pauling remembered Spitzer as being one of the few undergraduate students who showed much enthusiasm for his George Fisher Baker Lectures – which dealt principally with structural chemistry – and was impressed by the vast body of knowledge that Spitzer had accumulated at such a young age.

Spitzer was born on February 9, 1918, in New York City.  From boyhood his interests revolved around chemistry, physics and math. He entered Cornell in 1934, worked there in a qualitative analysis lab and was accepted into Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi, both widely respected academic honor societies. Spitzer graduated from Cornell in 1938 and moved on to graduate studies at Caltech, where he earned his Ph. D. in physical chemistry in 1941, studying heats of combustion and electron diffraction. As a doctoral candidate, Spitzer worked under Pauling’s immediate supervision for parts of his stay and under his general supervision for the duration.

The documentary evidence suggests that Pauling thought very highly of Spitzer, with whom he was often in contact regarding possible job and research opportunities. In one letter to the Fellowship Board in Oxford, Pauling wrote, “His work is characterized by unusually good common sense and insight.” Spitzer and Pauling also often ended their letters to one other by asking about their wives, children and overall well-being, an indication that their bond was founded on more than just science and employment prospects.

A glowing recommendation for Ralph Spitzer written by Linus Pauling, January 1946.

The correspondence between Spitzer and Pauling starts in July 1942, with a letter from Spitzer to Pauling regarding Spitzer’s unhappiness in Hampton, Virginia and his eagerness to work elsewhere.  Spitzer was especially interested to know if Pauling was aware of any availablities in California because he was not a fan of the East Coast weather. Oblivious to Spitzer’s climactic concerns, Pauling suggested that he work in a lab in Pittsburgh or look into a position at the Metallurgy Department of the University of Chicago.  Spitzer ended up accepting a job at the Oceanographic Institution in Wood’s Hole, Massachusetts.

In November 1944, Spitzer asked Pauling to sponsor his application for a National Research Fellowship, to be taken up when his war duties were over, to investigate, alongside Dr. Kenneth Pitzer at Berkley, the structure of cyclopentane by the measurement of gaseous heat capacities. Pauling was pleased to write in support of Spitzer, as he could recommend him highly as a result of their time spent together at Caltech.

Buoyed by Pauling’s recommendation, Spitzer received a letter from the National Research Council offering him a Fellowship for the year 1945-1946. He would be working at the University of California under the supervision of Professor Pitzer.

In the exchange that followed receipt of this news, Spitzer and Pauling deviated from their usual discussions of jobs and research opportunities and began addressing topics of politics and social responsibility.  In due course, Spitzer expressed his opinions on the atomic bomb in great detail, stating that the only solution, “that will not lead to a catastrophic armament race is to internationalize knowledge on atomic energy and demand, as a price for our sharing our knowledge, free access to laboratories and factories all over the world.”

In its midst, Spitzer apologized to Pauling for his political rant, noting that it was uncommon for him, but nonetheless continued, “Apparently the only one in public life who doesn’t feel that the Americans have a monopoly on brains in this matter and can come out on top in an argument race is Henry Wallace.” Spitzer concluded his letter by encouraging Pauling to get involved, pleading for younger and more vigorous men to take the lead if the matter was to be resolved anytime soon.  Pauling agreed completely about the overwhelming importance of the atomic bomb matter and opined that the only way to avoid an atomic war was through formation of a democratic world government.

Months later, the end of his fellowship in sight, Spitzer began showing interest in acquiring an academic job, telling Pauling to keep his name in mind if he happened to hear of anything. Coincidentally, Pauling soon received a letter from Oregon State College’s School of Science, asking for any ideas that he might have about individuals suitable to fill the position of Assistant Professor of Physical Chemistry.  OSC was particularly interested to know Pauling’s opinion of two specific men:  Spitzer and Cooley.

Pauling reacts to news of Spitzer's employment at Oregon State College.

Pauling wasn’t so keen on Dr. Cooley but described Ralph Spitzer as “a first-rate man.”  In due course, Spitzer was offered and accepted the job at OSC, thanking Pauling shortly thereafter for helping him to get the job. He began work in Corvallis on September 16, 1946, devoted full time to chemistry instruction, including elementary and advanced physical chemistry, as well as chemical engineering. He also taught advanced classes in chemical theory for graduate students.

Spitzer was pleased with the size of his new school, the small town and the quality of education.  In turn, Pauling was happy to have helped out a friend and was pleased to know that Ralph was enjoying his time in Oregon, alongside his wife Terry, who was an undergraduate student at the college. In the months that followed, Pauling continued to encourage Spitzer to do research at OSC, as he felt there were many great opportunities that lie ahead in his future at the school.  Little did either of them know that the situation would soon take a turn for the worse.

Scenes from the Linus Pauling Science Center grand opening

(Video courtesy of Graham Kislingbury, Mid-Valley Newspapers)

We were there when ground was broken in September 2009.  Now, just over two years later, it was our great pleasure to attend the grand opening of the magnificent Linus Pauling Science Center, new home to the Linus Pauling Institute and to components of the Department of Chemistry. At 105,000 square feet, the Pauling Science Center is the largest academic building on the Oregon State University campus.  It is also the most expensive, costing $62.5 million to construct.

In addition to the video above, the Corvallis Gazette-Times did a great job of covering the opening (here’s one story focusing on the building and another on the event).  Below is a gallery of photographs that the blog took in documenting a memorable day.

A Sentimental Trip

Ava Helen Pauling, June 1981.

In the final months of 1981, Ava Helen Pauling was slowing down and making her final public appearances. She was spending as much time as possible with her husband and children, but encouraged Linus to stay busy and travel because of his difficulty dealing with emotional distress. She had been diagnosed with a form of inoperable cancer, and had decided against the use of chemotherapy.

According to his family, Linus Pauling was convinced that he would be able to save her through the use of vitamin C and other supplements. He was unable to talk about her final arrangements so preparations, including Ava’s memorial service preferences and her desire to be cremated, were discussed with her daughter Linda over a long weekend. After surgeries, a long term fight with cancer and a number of other medical complications, Ava Helen died in her home on December 7.

Following the death of his wife of nearly sixty years, Pauling was, understandably, quite lost. His children helped guide him through the funeral arrangements and Ava’s memorial service, andthough he gladly accepted their help, he was very resistant to other offers of assistance in the every day aspects of life. He stayed as busy as he could, and over the course of 1982 published three papers on the nucleus of the atom – a highly abstract program of work that afforded him some measure of escape from his grief.

He remained very lonely however, and was often lost in thought. According to those who knew him, Pauling was having trouble accepting the reality of his wife’s death. Biographer Thomas Hager wrote:

He still talked to her, holding phantom conversations as he spooned his vitamin C powder into his juice in the morning. He still looked for her, expecting to see her in the doorway, asking him to stop and take a walk, to come to lunch. He would cry and look out to sea. Then he would get back to work.

Though he was managing to get by under the circumstances, maintaining his health and taking care of himself during the following months, there remained a need for some kind of a mechanism that would allow him to deal with his grief. Just such an opportunity came in the form of his sixtieth Oregon Agricultural College class reunion. He decided to attend, and set off on what would become a long and meaningful journey.

Sixtieth anniversary reunion of the Oregon Agricultural College class of 1922.  Lucile and Linus Pauling are located second row from bottom, left.

His first stop was Dayton, Washington where he had worked for the Warren Construction Company in July 1923. He and his wife had spent a month there just after being married, and Pauling wished to revisit a number of locations that had meaning to the couple. He went to the intersection where the hotel they had stayed in once stood, and he walked around town and noted the place where Ava had outscored him on an IQ test they had taken.

The following morning he drove across the border into Oregon, visiting Arlington and then Condon, where he visited the grave of his grandfather Linus Wilson Darling for the first time. He spent the next day on the Oregon coast, seeking out former vacation and employment spots in Seaside and Tillamook, and then drove to Corvallis for a few days before attending his class reunion at Oregon State University.

The day after his reunion, Pauling spoke on the capitol steps in Salem, discussing nuclear weapons and the need for peace. He spoke later that same night, once again on peace topics, at the First Methodist Church in Portland. The next day he met with his sisters and a cousin to deliver to the director of the Oregon Historical Society the diaries that Linus Wilson Darling had kept in the late 19th century.

After lunch with his relatives he began his drive back home, stopping at a portion of highway along Grave Creek – he had spent five months in 1919 working on the highway there, sleeping in a tent near a covered bridge. At the time of his visit, the covered bridge was still in existence but the highway was partially destroyed, having been intersected by the construction of Interstate 5.

Pauling finally made it home two days before his wedding anniversary, having driven a total of 2,400 miles. It appears that the trip was just what he had needed, providing a frame of reference and partial relief from his loss. In a letter to an old friend, Pauling described his travels simply and decisively: “I went on this trip mainly to visit places where I had lived long ago.”

Linus Pauling, June 1982.

Following his return, Pauling decided to move out of the Portola Valley house that he and his wife had shared together. His youngest son Crellin moved in with his family, while Pauling bought a condominium on the Stanford University campus. He moved some of his belongings to his ranch at Big Sur, and others to Stanford. He decorated his new home with pictures of Ava and himself, framed awards, and furniture from their travels. The changes helped, but only to a degree. In September he wrote to his best friend, Lloyd Jeffress, “I am getting along pretty well, but I still feel quite lonesome. I have been working hard.”

Pauling became involved once again with his institute, and in early 1983 settled a lawsuit that had been consuming valuable time and resources. He spent half of his time at his ranch, and the other half in Palo Alto. He developed a routine, waking up before five in the morning, and reading himself to sleep at night after a full day of research and theory. Despite his loneliness, Pauling would live for another twelve years, continuing to pursue his scientific work, speak on world peace and manage his affairs.

The Linus Pauling Science Center

Artist's rendering of the Linus Pauling Science Center

Artist’s rendering of the Linus Pauling Science Center

Last Friday, September 25th, Oregon State University formally launched the construction of what will be the largest academic building on the OSU campus – the Linus Pauling Science Center.  Scheduled for completion in Spring 2011, the Pauling Science Center is a centerpiece of the on-going Campaign for OSU.

The crowd assembled on the west edge of campus for the launching ceremony.

The crowd assembled on the west edge of campus for the launching ceremony.

Linus Pauling’s extraordinary career was defined in large part by his ability to synthesize scientific details across disciplines.  His revolutionary work on the nature of the chemical bond, for example, involved at its core the marriage of the new physics – quantum mechanics, which Pauling studied as it was being developed by the great European scientists of the early and mid-1920s – with chemistry’s quest to understand how atoms bind together to form molecules.

The ambition of the Linus Pauling Science Center is, in a sense, to follow a similar model by bringing the entire faculty of the Linus Pauling Institute (LPI) under the same roof as the OSU Department of Chemistry, as well as students and researchers in both the physical and life sciences.  LPI Director Balz Frei, speaking at the launch ceremony, suggested that the completion of the building promises to be a “seismic event” for work in the sciences at OSU.  And in a recent issue of the LPI research newsletter, Frei had this to say about the Institute’s aims for their new space.

Our goal is to have five laboratories in each of the three major areas of research in the Institute: cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, cancer chemoprotection, and healthy aging. We also continue to expand our outreach efforts, including the Micronutrient Information Center, which provides free, scientifically accurate information on vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and certain foods and beverages. We would like to enhance these efforts to educate people about the important role of diet and lifestyle and supplements in disease prevention, which is becoming increasingly urgent as healthcare costs continue to increase. We plan to get involved in school programs to encourage kids to exercise more and eat healthily, and we are in the process of setting up a study in older adults to investigate the beneficial effects of specific lifestyle changes in maintaining health.

Dr. Balz Frei, Director of the Linus Pauling Institute, at the launch ceremonies.

Dr. Balz Frei, Director of the Linus Pauling Institute, at the launch ceremonies.

OSU President Ed Ray.

OSU President Dr. Ed Ray.

George Pernsteiner, Chancellor of the Oregon University System.

George Pernsteiner, Chancellor of the Oregon University System.

This will not be the first building named for Linus Pauling.  In 1951 the Centro de Estudos Linus Pauling was christened at what was then known as the Universidade do Recife in Brazil.  A different Linus Pauling Study Center was dedicated in Santiago, Chile in 1992.  Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, California is home to Linus and Ava Helen Pauling Hall; Caltech has named a lecture hall after Pauling in its Gates Laboratory of Chemistry; Corvallis boasts of Linus Pauling Middle School; and we have recently received word of a Linus Pauling Hospital being built in Madagascar!

Logo used by the Chilean Linus Pauling Study Center.

Logo used by the Chilean Linus Pauling Study Center.

The Corvallis Gazette-Times has more on the launch celebration, including a description of the commemorative beam signing that closed the event.

Ten Years of the Valley Library

Linus Pauling in the original Special Collections reading room, 1988.

Linus Pauling in the original Special Collections reading room, 1988.

Today marks the ten-year anniversary of the dedication of the Valley Library, home of the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections.

The importance of the Valley Library construction effort – a $40 million project that was at least five years in the making – is difficult to overstate.  The transformation from the old Kerr Library (remembered by many for its rather unusual south-end “cheese-grater” facade) to the sleek modern facility that we now enjoy, signaled a major step forward for students, staff and faculty alike.  The christening of the Valley Library brought with it, among many other improvements, a fully-wired information commons, a multi-floor study rotunda, dozens of private study rooms, tens of thousands of square feet for new office space and even a coffee shop. (A video tour of the building is available here)

A strong case could be made, however, that no department within the library was as radically-impacted by the expansion than was Special Collections.  The initial Special Collections facility, created as a temporary location in the months following Linus Pauling’s donation of his papers in 1986, was essentially carved out of a pre-existing storage area – the reading room, office (there was only one, for a staff of three) and collections storage shelving were crammed into a space of perhaps 2,000 square feet.  The area was alarmed and temperature controlled, but much too small to hold the 4,400 linear foot Pauling Papers, parts of which resided in an off-campus warehouse for about three years.

A glimpse of the original Special Collections space can be seen in the short first clip included below, as extracted from a 1994 development video produced for the library expansion marketing campaign.  Notice in particular the computers and scanner contemporary to the era.

We’re pleased to note that the general thrust of the second clip has been, and continues to be, more or less fulfilled.  At this point, tens of thousands of pages of content from the Pauling archive have been digitized and are freely-available on the web.  That said, the world’s schoolchildren are not, at this point, able to read our letters from Niels Bohr to Pauling, though that’s solely due to copyright restrictions, rather than technical infrastructure.

In terms of physical infrastructure, the change from the original Special Collections facility to our current environment could not be more pronounced.  As with the first space, our permanent home is secure and temperature controlled, but now we have a great deal of room at our disposal to store our collections and conduct our work.  Included in this space is a grand foyer which hosts a rotating display and has served as the location for numerous university events.

Initial artist's conception for the Special Collections display foyer.

Initial artist's conception for the Special Collections display foyer.

Final display foyer artist's conception.

Final display foyer artist's conception.

Special Collections display foyer, east end.

Special Collections display foyer, east end.

Likewise, in ten-plus years our reading room has hosted the research of thousands of scholars, from Nobel laureates to honors chemistry undergraduates to enthusiastic visitors from Linus Pauling Middle School.

Initial artist's conception for the Special Collections reading room.

Initial artist's conception for the Special Collections reading room.

As it turns out, we have yet to see our first comet.  But the fifth-floor view is indeed terrific.

Final reading room artist's conception.

Final reading room artist's conception.

The Special Collections reading room, as viewed from the East. (Click image to view Reading Room panorama)

The Special Collections reading room, as viewed from the East. (Click image to view Reading Room panorama)

Facilities issues are a huge problem for so many archives and special collections – too often, in leaky basements, overheated lofts and spaces infiltrated by pests, our colleagues around the world are forced to make grim decisions about what to preserve and what to expose to a wide swath of imperfect elements.  Fortunately, thanks to the thousands of supporters who worked so hard to create the Valley Library, we are able to store our collections securely and in optimal conditions, thus freeing-up most of our resources to providing ever-greater access to the unique treasures secured behind our walls.

For those interested in a closer look at our facilities, please see this behind-the-scenes video tour, led by Head of Special Collections Cliff Mead.  Likewise, an account of the Valley Library dedication ceremonies, as they happened in May 1999, is available in the Winter 1999 issue of The Messenger.  Finally, our colleagues in the University Archives have released a terrific (and growing) set of images on Flickr commemorating the library’s anniversary.

Pauling in the ROTC


ROTC Cadet Linus C. Pauling, 1918.

As most of our readers are no doubt aware, this past Tuesday was Veterans’ Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in many other parts of the world.  In honor of this global occasion, we thought it appropriate to discuss a component of Linus Pauling’s story that may come as a surprise to many — his involvement in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

At the time of Pauling’s arrival in Corvallis for the beginning of his studies at Oregon Agricultural College, two years of ROTC service were required of all male students physically-able to participate.

[Indeed, compulsory ROTC remained a feature of university life at Oregon State until 1962.  OSU’s proud tradition of military training is documented nicely by our colleagues in the University Archives in the Historical Note to this finding aid.]

Pauling, decades away from the peace activism that, for many, continues to define his legacy, participated with typical vigor.  His marks for military drill were consistently stellar, and near the end of his freshman year Pauling received first runner-up in the Best Soldier competition at OAC’s Military Inspection Day.

Pauling's OAC report card, October 1918.  The usual good grades in military drill, the sciences and math; a highly-unusual A+ in P.E.; and more-typical struggles in Mechanical Drawing.

Pauling's OAC report card, October 1918. The usual good grades in military drill, the sciences and math; a highly-unusual A+ in P.E.; and more-typical struggles in Mechanical Drawing.

Pauling’s commitment to service did, at least on one occasion, come at a cost:  in his Pauling Chronology, biographer Robert Paradowski notes an unhappy incident befalling the young undergraduate at the beginning of his second term.

After going home for his Christmas vacation, Pauling returns on January 7 to the OAC campus for the Winter Short Course. His financial problems become severe during this time. He is also asked to leave the boardinghouse because he makes too much noise tramping up the stairs in his heavy military boots. During the winter and spring, he goes through several changes of address, sometimes rooming with friends, other times taking whatever he can find.

Nonetheless, Pauling’s heart seemed fully in tune with the ROTC mission.  Biographer Thomas Hager, in the early pages of his Force of Nature, writes

Following his freshman year, in the early summer of 1918, Pauling and Mervyn Stephenson, along with a number of other OAC cadets, were sent to the Presidio in San Francisco for six weeks of intensive officers’ training.  Pauling and Stephenson spent the rest of the summer helping build wooden-hulled freighters in a shipyard on the coast of Oregon.  Whatever Pauling’s opinions about war later, during World War I he was in full support of the government’s actions.  Stephenson would later remember that Pauling was a strong supporter of the war effort, “100 percent for it.”

Military training at the Presidio, San Francisco, California, Summer 1918.

Military training at the Presidio, San Francisco, California, Summer 1918.

Having completed the required two years, Pauling chose to remain active in ROTC for the duration of his time as an undergraduate, adding classes in camp cookery to his compulsory drilling.  By the time of his movement on to graduate work at the California Institute of Technology, Pauling had risen to the rank of Major within the Training Corps.

In later years, Pauling would answer the call to service again by engaging in an ambitious program of scientific war research on behalf of the Allied effort during World War II — the human blood plasma substitute oxypolygelatin, new types of rocket propellants, invisible inks and an oxygen meter for use in aircraft and submarines all arose out of this fruitful period.

For his efforts, Pauling received a number of awards from the U.S. government including a Naval Ordnance Development Award, a certificate of recognition from the Office of Scientific Research and Development, a certificate of appreciation from the Rocket Development Program and, most importantly, the Presidential Medal for Merit.

Though the later Pauling was, without question, a vocal and, at times, incendiary critic of U.S. military policy, one would be hard-pressed to make the argument that he was anti-soldier.  To Pauling, war was the greatest of all immoralities, but his criticism was always pointed at the world’s larger actors — the governments and war profiteers — rather than the men and women working in service to their countries.

On the contrary, service to a larger cause was clearly important to Pauling, to the point where he and his wife, Ava Helen, once pledged themselves as willing “Hostages for Peace,” offering to travel to North Vietnam to serve as human shields for Vietnamese citizens and U.S. prisoners of war endangered by the U.S. aerial raids being conducted in the early 1970s.

Clearly, amidst all the accusations and noise surrounding his alleged “anti-Americanism” or “communist ties,” Linus Pauling’s remarkable willingness to sacrifice, much like his earlier ROTC service, was an important but frequently-overlooked component of a terrifically-complex story.

Oregon 150

A Virtual Tour of the OSU Libraries Special Collections

The OSU Libraries Special Collections Reading Room

The OSU Libraries Special Collections Reading Room

A seven-part virtual tour of the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections is now available on the PaulingBlog.

The videos, which were originally shot for use by Terra Magazine, are hosted by Cliff Mead, Head of Special Collections.  Viewers of the tour will receive fascinating insight into Dr. Linus Pauling and his legacy, and can look forward to up-close glimpses of the Pauling office, Pauling’s personal safe, his huge collection of correspondence and his remarkable array of molecular models.

Click the “Read More” link below to go behind the scenes of our facility and to learn more about the types of work that we do.


With the death of Google Video, so too did these videos disappear as originally presented.  Never fear though – the content is available for viewing via OSU Mediaspace.

Beaver Pep

Q – What is your reaction to Sandy Koufax leaving the Dodgers?

A – I haven’t really developed a reaction to that.  Doesn’t the young man have some kind of a pain in his arm?

-“Scientific Genius Dotes On Comic Strips, Miniskirts, But Can’t Cure Golfer’s Slice,” The (Portland) Oregonian, December 2, 1966.

Fans storm the field at Reser Stadium following Oregon State's upset win over USC, September 25, 2008.

[Photo by Andy Cripe, (Corvallis) Gazette-Times]

Oregon State University’s remarkable college football victory over top-ranked USC last night has us thinking about a few entries in one of our more important documents — Linus Pauling’s Oregon Agricultural College diary, which dates to his freshman year as an undergraduate in 1917.

The OAC Diary, which we’ve mentioned before on the PaulingBlog, is a terrifically-valuable resource in which the young Pauling records his thoughts and feelings in an honest and personal fashion. Both in content and in tone the document is quite different from most of Pauling’s later writings which, letters to Ava Helen excepted, tend to be rather formal.

As one might expect, much of the diary documents Pauling’s process of assimilating into a new environment as an eager but unsure college freshman.  On page 54 of the journal, in an entry dated October 10, 1917, Pauling writes of an event that seems equal parts hazing ritual and spirit rally.

Am getting along all right; cleaned the fountain today, and serpentined with a couple of hundred other rooks to the football field, where we yelled for O.A.C. and sung some songs.  We then marched to Waldo Hall and sang ‘How green I am’ to a crowd of the inmates.  We were guarded by about 20 sophs.

Nearly three weeks later, on October 29, Pauling’s devotion to his new school seems to be strengthening.

Am getting along all right.  Have lots of beaver pep.

Pauling OAC Diary, pg. 54.

Pauling OAC Diary, pg. 54.

In truth, there is little evidence that Pauling maintained much of an interest in athletic pursuits, be it as a participant or a fan.  He liked to go for walks in the Big Sur countryside near his home at Deer Flat Ranch — a hobby that nearly resulted in his untimely demise.  Otherwise, the only real connection between Pauling and sports is again found in the OAC Diary where he records, in a list of resolutions, the desire to “go out for track as a high jumper and succeed.”  As it turns out, behind this resolution there was indeed a method.  Tom Hager writes in his Pauling biography, Force of Nature

Pauling paid less attention to subjects outside the physical sciences, receiving…an F in his second semester of freshman gymnasium.  He failed the gym class when, in true Pauling fashion, he tried to get around the rules.  He knew that members of the school athletic teams weren’t required to take the standard gym classes, so he planned to join the track team instead of taking the required course. (He had thought about being a high-hurdles and high-jump competitor since high school.)  Trying out for the team, however, was a disaster:  He knocked over a hurdle and couldn’t clear a high enough bar to interest the coach.  Although he ran in one meet, he failed to make the team, got an F in the course he tried to bypass, and gave up on competitive athletics.

Linus Pauling (second from left), 1917.

Linus Pauling (second from left), 1917.

Oregon 150