Pauling’s OAC, 1919-1920: Social Life

“Feminine Section Intrafraternity Smoker,” 1919-1920. Linus Pauling is seated at front, far right.

[The third and final installment of our look at Linus Pauling’s experience of the 1919-1920 academic year at Oregon Agricultural College.]

Campus life during the 1919-1920 school year was generally more lighthearted than had been the case during the previous few years; a time period defined largely by the horrors of World War I. War-time bans on major social gathering were lifted, making way for near weekly dances and school-sanctioned social events for all students to attend.

A major point of emphasis to kick off the school year was Homecoming Weekend. Beginning with a parade and rally held on the night of Friday, October 24th, and continuing through a home football game versus Stanford on Saturday (a 14-6 loss for the Aggies) and a campus church service on Sunday, Homecoming was a festive occasion meant to built bridges between students, faculty, and alumni. Unfortunately for Linus Pauling, his obligations to the state highway department resulted in his arriving on campus two weeks after the celebrations were over.

While not a student during the 1919-1920 academic year, Pauling still lived at the Gamma Tau Beta house as a faculty member. This was a regular practice at the time, especially for those who were unmarried. Professors whose names now adorn buildings at Oregon State University – individuals including Ava Milam, Grant Covell, Richard Dearborn, and Samuel Graf – were all members of various Greek organizations on campus.

A major highlight of the school year for the Gamma Tau Beta fraternity was their annual house dance, held on February 3rd, 1920. The house hired the Duke Vaughn Jazz Band to provide the entertainment and hosted a variety of faculty, alumni and out-of-town guests in addition to current Aggies.


Gamma Tau Beta intramural baseball championship team, 1919-1920. Linus Pauling likely took this photo.

“Here’s to men we know and love, / Beavers tried and true; / Here’s to the men of the orange line / Wiping the ground with you; / Up with the glass and pledge them, lads, / Flashing its amber gleam, / While deep in our hearts the toast shall be: / Here’s to the Old O.A.C.”

-“Toast to the Team”

Sports played an outsized role in campus social life, and for those who didn’t compete on OAC’s varsity teams there were many opportunities to participate in intramural activities. Recognized today as the third oldest program in the country, intramural sports at OAC operated under the motto of “Everybody in Sports” and worked throughout the year to include the participation of as many male students as possible. Pauling’s fraternity, Gamma Tau Beta, was very successful athletically, winning the college’s baseball divisions in both fall and spring, and placing second in cross country.

Women’s intramurals were not as well developed at OAC, but the college did offer opportunities for female students to compete in basketball, field hockey, swimming, and tennis. Through the Women’s Athletic Association, women at OAC also had the chance to practice baseball, volleyball, archery, fencing, soccer, and hiking. Relatively few actual games were scheduled during the school year due to a lack of teams and fears related to the influenza outbreak.

Beyond sports, OAC’s students took advantage of access to a number of different recreational pastimes including The Mask and Dagger Dramatic Club, and the Glee and Madrigal Clubs. In the winter, Mask and Dagger joined forces with the Glee Club to produce the school play, “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Student publications were another way to get involved on campus, be it through The Barometer newspaper, The Beaver yearbook or school-aligned quarterlies like The Student Engineer and The Oregon Countryman.

Linus Pauling and Paul Emmett, 1920

The recreational group with which Pauling was most closely associated was the Triangular Debate team, which offered the school’s best speakers the chance to compete intercollegiately. While Pauling was not eligible to participate during the year, his close friend Paul Emmett did compete in two separate debates, while also serving as the Forensics Manager for the sophomore class, one year beneath him in standing.

Emmett’s first competition was against the University of Oregon, during which he represented the negative argument to “Resolved, that the principles of the Chinese Exclusion Act should be applied to all immigration to this country for a period of not less than five years.” Later in the year, Emmett competed against the University of Washington, once again representing the negative positing on “Resolved, that the peace conference should have awarded the province of Shantung to China.” After graduating from OAC, Emmett earned a Ph.D. from Caltech and went on to become one of the foremost catalysis chemists of the twentieth century.


Traditions, even in the relatively early years of OAC’s history, were extremely important. Freshmen – more commonly known as “rooks” – were required to don green caps (for boys) or green ribbons (for girls) when on campus. To enforce these and other rules, the sophomore class was charged with forming a Vigilance Committee, which could mete out demerits and other punishments – including paddlings – for violations that they observed.

Important traditions for the junior class, to which Pauling would have belonged had he been able to return as a student, included Junior Prom, Beaver Annual, and Junior Flunk Day. Junior Prom was held in the Men’s Gymnasium (present-day Langton Hall), which was decorated with orange and black crepe paper, and attended by many school faculty. Junior Flunk Day was devoted to games contested between and within classes, as well as pranks pulled by juniors on the unassuming.


Students working in Graf Hall, circa 1921

Students at OAC weren’t just busy playing intramural sports and attending school dances, many also maintained a keen interest in state politics. One continuing point of conversation was the fact that, in 1920, the U.S. dollar was worth approximately half as much as had been the case in 1913, yet all other university expenses had gone up. (Incomes had also risen a mere 4%.) During that same period of time, enrollment at Oregon’s primary institutions of higher learning – including the University of Oregon, Oregon Agricultural College, and Oregon State Normal School – had grown by 150% though classrooms had only barely increased in size.

As a potential corrective, students writing in The Barometer and elsewhere encouraged the citizenry to vote yes on the Higher Educational Tax Act, which would provide a boost in funding for the state’s colleges by increasing personal income taxes throughout Oregon. The measure passed in 1920, but was not enacted until the beginning of 1921.

In addition to stressing students’ budgets, funding woes for higher education in Oregon also hamstrung OAC’s ability to retain some of the temporary faculty that it had hired during the 1919-1920 school year, Linus Pauling among them. Fortunately, Pauling had built his savings up enough over the course of the year to re-enroll as a student for the fall 1920 quarter.

Retaining faculty was likewise encumbered at OAC by sub-standard facilities. The college was in especially dire need of a new auditorium as well as new Commerce, Home Economics, Pharmacy, and Engineering buildings. While a new engineering laboratory – present-day Graf Hall – began construction in November 1919 just off of Monroe Street, the other much needed buildings had to wait for several more years.

Pauling’s OAC, 1919-1920: The Boy Professor

Paul Emmett and Linus Pauling, circa 1919

[Ed Note: Next week, school begins anew here at Oregon State University. And as has become tradition at around this time, we reflect back today on Linus Pauling’s attendance at Oregon Agricultural College one-hundred years ago. In this three-part series, we explore Pauling’s life and the culture of OAC during the 1919-1920 academic year.]

Linus Pauling began the summer of 1919 in a job he detested. Working 60 hours a week, Pauling held a position at Riverside Dairy that was responsible for “monitoring the quality of the bitumen-stone mixes” used in the company’s products. Exhausted and bored, Pauling started his search for a new summer job within only a couple of weeks.

Quickly he found a more desirable job with the Oregon State Highway Department working as a plant inspector at the Wolf Creek-Grave Creek section of the Pacific Highway. Importantly, the position allowed Pauling to work closely with chemicals, and once the new opportunity was confirmed, Pauling left the Riverside Dairy in favor of Josephine County, Oregon, where he would help to oversee the paving process.

The Grave Creek paving plant, 1919

As the end of summer neared, Pauling began to prepare himself to return to Oregon Agricultural College for his junior year as a Chemical Engineering student. However, he soon received devastating news: his mother, who as in dire financial straits, had used all of his savings to keep the family afloat in Portland, meaning that there was no money available to fund his continued schooling.

Defeated, Pauling continued his work as a plant inspector and, once September rolled around, he found himself debating paving techniques with other inspectors rather than attending classes in Corvallis. But even in these debates, Pauling relied upon his scientific training to put forth an informed argument and to contradict the conventional wisdom. Specifically, Pauling claimed that the state’s guidance to lay pavement at temperatures between 225-275 degrees Fahrenheit was not accurate enough; 275 degrees was, in Pauling’s view, necessary for the best outcome.


John Fulton, 1947. Also an OAC alum, Fulton served as chair of the Chemistry Department from 1907-1940.

Fortunately for Pauling, Oregon Agricultural College had seen an unprecedented growth in enrollment that fall and was now confronting a crisis as faculty struggled to meet the needs of a much larger student body. In late October, OAC Dean of Chemistry John Fulton reached out to Pauling – who was by then well-known to the faculty as being an exceptional talent – and offered him a position teaching analytical chemistry. Pauling was 18 years old at the time of the offer.

Though it would come with a $25 pay decrease to $100 per month, Pauling readily accepted the job, returning to campus on November 14 and officially beginning work as an instructor in Chemistry on November 20, 1919. Pauling’s personnel file indicates that this was not his first job within the Chemistry department – the previous academic year he had been employed as a student assistant, charged with mixing solutions for use in general chemistry laboratories.

Despite the pay decrease, Pauling found that his new job did come with a few perks. Nestled in Science Hall (present day Furman Hall) Pauling worked primarily on the second floor, which was dedicated to quantitative analysis, and was assigned his own office. He also enjoyed the services of his own assistant, a Mr. Douglas, who helped prepare solutions for the courses that Pauling instructed (the same job that Pauling had held the year before).

In winter 1920, his debut as a collegiate instructor, Pauling taught three courses: two sections of quantitative analysis for mining engineers, chemical engineers and pharmacy students; and one section of general chemistry for agriculture, home economics, and entry-level engineering students. The courses were listed as Chemistry 244 and Chemistry 102 respectively.  In these three classes combined, Pauling taught 83 students, one of whom was his close friend Paul Emmett, later to become an influential catalysis chemist. Emmett received an A in Pauling’s quantitative analysis course for chemical engineering and pharmacy students.

And as the year progressed, Dean Fulton and Pauling developed a consequential academic relationship and also a friendship. Importantly, it is likely that Fulton referred Pauling to a series of papers authored by Irving Langmuir and G.N. Lewis that became very influential in his later research. Following Pauling’s graduation from OAC, Fulton also supplied $100 and $200 loans to support Pauling’s research during his graduate school years at the California Institute of Technology.


With one term of instruction under his belt, Pauling’s horizons began to expand and his interest in the opportunities offered by an OAC education started to wither. In particular Pauling believed that the land grant curriculum put forth by OAC was lacking, particularly in its attention to theory, and increasingly he found himself drawn to Caltech and its new Gates Chemical Laboratory. As he considered a transfer, Pauling initiated a brief correspondence with Caltech’s Chemistry head A.A. Noyes, and he also secured a letter of recommendation from John Fulton. In the end though, Pauling was simply unable financially to commit to a move to southern California, and decided to stay on at OAC for another term as an instructor.

For spring term, Pauling was assigned two new courses: Chemistry 242 and Chemistry 245. Both were quantitative analysis surveys designed for engineering students and each included at least one lecture, one recitation, and anywhere from three to twelve hours of lab work per week. Each day of Pauling’s schedule had several morning hours blocked out for preparing and delivering the majority of his lectures.

View of the inside front cover of Pauling’s 1920 Quantitative Analysis notebook.

Pauling’s research notebook for that year – annotated with a hand-written “Keep Out! No Admittance” across the front cover – is riddled with student grades, calculations and notes on experimental methods. Pauling was compelled to consult this journal when, after finishing his position at the end of spring term and returning to his pavement inspector job, Dean Fulton contacted him at his Wolf Creek address. In his letter, Fulton requested that Pauling decipher some of the notes on quizzes that he had administered to his students during the previous term. Fulton also needed clarification on unknown solutions that he had produced and used during his classes.

Pauling’s appointment for the academic year ended in June 1920 and by June 11th, when OAC’s students were wrapping up their final examinations, “the boy professor” was returning to his position with the Oregon State Highway Department. He did so having also applied for a job as an assayer at Mountain Copper Company in Keswick, California, but he ultimately decided not to make the move so far south. During the summer months that followed, Pauling worked especially hard to accrue enough savings to support a true junior year at Oregon Agricultural College. Fortunately, he was able to do so and returned to campus the following fall, eager to begin classes after a one year hiatus.

Clothes Make the Man

[Ed Note: The Pauling Blog becomes a photo blog for the next four weeks as we dig into the 5,500+ images held in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers. In addition to showing off some pictures that have never before been released online, this examination pays particular attention to Pauling’s evolving taste in clothes over the years. Today’s post features selections from Pauling’s birth in 1901 to the end of the 1920s.]

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Pauling in 1902, age 1. Note in particular the necklace.

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Pauling, age 5, posing in buffalo-skin chaps, 1906. Linus’s father had this photo commissioned for use in advertising his Condon, Oregon pharmacy.

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Linus, at center, with his two sisters, Lucile (left) and Pauline. This photo was also taken in Condon in 1908.

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Eight years later, the Pauling children posed near their home in Portland with their mother. From left to right: Lucile, Linus, Belle and Pauline Pauling, 1916.

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Pauling in his ROTC uniform during Fall term of his freshman year at Oregon Agricultural College. He is sixteen years old in this photo. Two years of ROTC was compulsory for all male students attending OAC at the time.

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An iconic portrait of the young Pauling taken the summer after his freshman year at OAC. Specifically, this photo was taken on the Oregon Coast in Tillamook, where the Paulings spent some time during the summer of 1918. Linus worked as a pin boy at a local bowling alley during the stay.

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Another photo of Pauling in his military dress, 1918. Though only two years were required, Pauling opted to remain in ROTC for the entirety of his OAC experience, graduating from the college having attained the rank of Major.

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Far from a typical look for Pauling, this image is cropped from a group photo of participants in the OAC “Feminine Section Intrafraternity Smoker,” circa 1920.

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Pauling with his life-long friend, Paul Emmett, in 1920. Also a Beaver, Emmett went on to become a major scientific figure in his own right, making significant contributions to the study of catalysis chemistry. Emmett also became Pauling’s brother-in-law when he married Pauline Pauling late in life.

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Pauling clowning around sometime near his graduation from OAC in 1922.

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Newly arrived at Caltech, Pauling poses on the back of a student’s car.

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Pauling with his bride, Ava Helen, her mother, Nora Gard Miller, and Nettie Spaulding, one of Ava Helen’s eleven siblings. Standing at front is Nettie’s daughter, Leone. 1924.

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The young couple outside their Pasadena home in 1925. Linus had been working on their Model-T Ford prior to this photo being taken.

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Looking very California on a trip to the beach. 1925.

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At the Temple of Neptune, Paestum, Italy, during his legendary Guggenheim trip to Europe. This photo was taken by Ava Helen in April 1926.

Pauling in Graduate School

Pauling in Pasadena, 1922.

Pauling in Pasadena, 1922.

[Part 1 of 3]

“My ambition to become a factor in the advancement of human knowledge can be realized only if I prepare myself properly for my work.”

-Linus Pauling, letter to A.A. Noyes, January 26, 1922

By all measures a successful chemical engineering undergraduate at Oregon Agricultural College, and wanting very much to continue his education and earn his PhD in chemistry, Linus Pauling wrote to several graduate programs across the country, inquiring in particular about fellowships. Though he had proven himself to be prodigious talent as a student and, already, as a teacher, Pauling’s location in Corvallis didn’t carry a great deal of cache with the country’s elite institutions. And given his family’s shaky financial health, some measure of institutional funding was going to be required if he were to advance in the academy.

Pauling heard back from Harvard first, but was disappointed by their offer, which was for a half-time instructorship. Harvard also suggested that it would take him an estimated five years to complete his degree.  A more promising option was the University of California, Berkeley, an institution that would continue to tempt Pauling in the years to come. But as soon as he received a favorable reply from the California Institute of Technology (CIT), he rescinded all other pending applications, including Berkeley. Pauling had a good feeling about Caltech, and indeed his choice would pay significant dividends for the next four decades.


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Once frustrated with chemistry at Oregon Agricultural College because he found it too easy, in graduate school Pauling was both presented with more challenging questions and received more considered guidance from some of the best scientists of the day.  One such man was Arthur Amos Noyes, the chair of Caltech’s chemistry department who also served as Pauling’s contact throughout his application process.

In their correspondence, Noyes encouraged Pauling to develop his coursework independently during his final quarters at OAC. Doing so would enable the bright but undertrained Pauling to enter CIT with the strongest background the he could muster in physical chemistry.  Noyes’ suggestions included building up a solid understanding of both French and German, and also working through a more rigorous physical chemistry text than the one that Pauling was currently using in his class.

This more appropriate text, An Advanced Course in Chemical Principles, was co-authored by Noyes himself, along with a Caltech colleague, Miles S. Sherrill.  Noyes implored Pauling to move through the book, methodically solving all of its example problems, the end goal being to provide Pauling with a better understanding of the field, and to prepare him to pursue both advanced coursework at CIT as well as his own unique research agenda.

The text itself was not merely descriptive, but also guided students through the problems that it presented by giving them the information necessary to solve them. This approach was unlike that taken by other popular texts at the time, which focused instead on leading students more directly to a solution. Noyes believed that his and Sherrill’s approach would help students to internalize what they were learning and assist them in understanding the processes required to arrive at the correct answer.

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Noyes’ specific suggestion was that Pauling work through the text in conjunction with the OAC physical chemistry class in which he was currently enrolled, beginning at a point in the book that matched where he was at in class.  Instead, Pauling opted to commence with an independent study of the text during the summer after he graduated from OAC and before he enrolled at CIT.  Doing so, he believed, would allow him to work through the problems systematically and would also help to occupy his time while he was working in the field, assisting with road construction and pavement testing for the Oregon Highway Department. Before he reached the Caltech campus during the third week of September 1922, Pauling had worked through the entirety of book, solving many of its problems by lantern light in his tent.

And just as he would continue to do for the rest of his life, Pauling questioned the accuracy of certain answers posed by the authors of the book.  Upon finally arriving in Pasadena that fall, a first order of business for Pauling was to compare his notes with those of Paul Emmett, his childhood friend and OAC classmate who had likewise entered a course of graduate study in chemistry at CIT.


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While Pauling was still at OAC, Noyes passed along a few more ideas that might help in preparing for the rigors of Caltech. In addition to his own physical chemistry book, Noyes also suggested that Pauling read X-Rays and Crystal Structure, authored by Sir William Henry Bragg and his son William Lawrence Bragg, and likewise advised that Pauling take a mineralogy class at OAC that would cover the fundamentals of x-ray crystallography.

It is interesting to note that, while reading X-Rays and Crystal Structure (once again, put off until the summer of 1922), Pauling wrote to Emmett and told him that he was not learning much from it. The Braggs, of course, eventually became chief scientific competitors of Pauling’s, and the techniques that they described in their book proved fundamental to many of Pauling’s own early discoveries.


A.A. Noyes, ca. 1920s.

A.A. Noyes, ca. 1920s.

As he tried to help Pauling secure funding for the coming school year, Noyes found himself questioning whether or not Pauling had the experience necessary to receive a teaching fellowship. Wanting to insure his study at CIT, Noyes encouraged Pauling to send further information that might help with finding a grant to cover tuition or even a graduate assistantship, which would promise a “somewhat larger payment.” Noyes assured Pauling that he assumed Pauling would eventually be qualified for a teaching fellowship the next year.

In applying to graduate programs, Pauling expressed full confidence in his capacity to succeed as a student in physical chemistry, due to his strong grasp of mathematics, his previous experience teaching quantitative analysis and his work as a teaching assistant in general chemistry.  But he also believed that the environment at Caltech was top-notch and would provide him with the training that he needed to carry out research, even though he had no prior experience in this area.

Noyes ultimately was able to offer Pauling a prized graduate assistantship, confident in his interest in pursuing pure science and a career in university teaching. Pauling would foster a close relationship with Noyes over the years, and it was Noyes who worked hardest to keep Pauling at Caltech after he had completed his PhD, warding off the advances of G.N. Lewis at Berkeley in particular.


Paul Emmett with his mother, ca. 1920s.

Paul Emmett with his mother, ca. 1920s.

Pauling moved in with Paul Emmett and Paul’s mother in September 1922, and stayed with them for his first school year in Pasadena. During this time, Emmett and Pauling shared the same bed, sleeping in shifts. Pauling’s habits were such that he would stay up late studying while Emmett slept, and around 3:00 AM Emmett would get up to go to the lab, at which time Pauling then went to sleep. During this first year in California, Pauling also took Richard Chace Tolman’s class, Introduction to Mathematical Physics, which helped cement Pauling’s desire to become a theoretical physical chemist.

During his sparse free time, Pauling wrote letter after letter to his girlfriend, Ava Helen Miller, who remained in Corvallis to continue work on her Home Economics degree at OAC. Having expressed a desire to marry at least twice before Linus left for California, only to be rebuffed by their families, the two decided in their letters that they would absolutely be wed once Pauling had finished his first year of classes and just prior to his resumption of more construction work during the summer. Their plan came to fruition in Salem, Oregon on June 17, 1923, and Ava Helen moved to Pasadena that fall to accompany her new husband during his second year as a graduate student.

Children of the Dawn

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[Post 1 of 2 focusing on the culture of oratory at Oregon Agricultural College during Pauling’s undergraduate years.]

Early in the 20th century, Oregon Agricultural College (OAC) – the institution now known as Oregon State University – was in the midst of rapid expansion and development. As new buildings sprung up and the student population steadily increased, the college was gradually acquiring all the markings of a venerable institution.

Prior to 1920, however, one such marking was still missing: a speech department. Viewed through a contemporary lens, it may be difficult to imagine the extent to which colleges of Pauling’s era prioritized and emphasized their linguistics departments. It is nonetheless true that, through the first half of the 20th century, the presence of eloquent orators on campus was a symbol of an institution’s cultural status.

Indeed, the focus on both oratory and debate at O.A.C. was, at this time, at least equal to the campus’ focus on athletics, music or drama. The college’s Forensics Club was regularly featured in the annual Beaver yearbook, with several pages dedicated to narrating club competitions. Likewise, the Barometer, OAC’s student newspaper, would at times publish up to six columns reporting on oratorical competitions in a single issue of the paper.

Oratory was so widely followed and competitive that an insert in the 1907-1908 Rooter’s Club booklet featured a cheer specifically created for OAC’s orators. Finally, in 1920, OAC established a speech department for the first time and thus was able to prepare a forensics team than was stronger than ever before.

"O.A.C. Yells" included in the 1907-1908 Rooter's Club book. Note the second  cheer written specifically for competitors in speech competitions.

“O.A.C. Yells” included in the 1907-1908 Rooter’s Club book. Note the second cheer written specifically for competitors in speech competitions.

The new speech department was a major asset to the college in part because speeches were used for more than oratorical competitions; oratory was a convention used to enhance the experience of nearly all campus events. Orators, for instance, might address the general student body or the college’s athletes before an athletic event in order to raise confidence and excitement in competitors and spectators alike. As stated in The O.A.C. Alumnus, a 1920s publication of the college alumni association, “forensic men and women [gave] athletics every ounce of support” by delivering lengthy and spirited pep talks. Once the game had started, oratory was also used to engage in “verbal combat” with students from other institutions.


Beaver Yearbook page devoted to a 1920 "triangular debate" between OAC, Reed College and the University of Oregon. Paul Emmett is pictured at right.

Beaver Yearbook page devoted to a “triangular debate” between OAC, Reed College and the University of Oregon. Paul Emmett is pictured at right.

The early 1920s coincided with Linus Pauling’s final years as an OAC student. Not surprisingly, his early experiences as a public speaker were heavily influenced by the high value that was placed on oratory within the student culture that surrounded him.

Even before entering any competitive event, Pauling had gained significant experience speaking to groups while teaching entry-level chemistry to fellow OAC undergraduates. During this same time period, Pauling’s close friend, Paul Emmett – later to become one of the world’s great catalysis chemists and, later still, Pauling’s brother-in-law – became quite active in the OAC Forensics Club and subsequently introduced Pauling to the thrills of competitive oratory. Emmett represented OAC in the 1920 triangular debate, an annual competition involving three colleges. The following year, both Emmett and Pauling were featured in the forensics section of The Beaver yearbook, Emmett as a debater and Pauling as a runner-up in the college-wide oratorical contest discussed below.

By founding a department dedicated to public speaking, OAC was able to provide members of its Forensics Club with a better training infrastructure. Importantly, Professor George Varney served as coach of the Forensics Club starting in 1920. Varney was a new arrival to the college but was known for having trained orators at different institutions, including a state champion. However, when Linus Pauling decided to compete in the annual inter-class oratorical contest, he sought the help of his own personal coach, an English professor whose past experience as a preacher qualified him to train students in the art of public speaking.


Pauling (bottom row, second from left) as depicted in the Beaver yearbook with fellow members of the class of '22.

Pauling (bottom row, second from left) as depicted in the Beaver yearbook with fellow members of the class of ’22.

Competing for the Juniors in OAC’s inter-class speaking competition, Pauling presented a grand interpretation of the status and future of civilization in the 20th century. Titled “Children of the Dawn,” (which he meant to refer to members of his generation) Pauling’s speech contained both analysis of the past and speculation on the future.

The piece opens with a poetic description of a dream, one in which humanity and Earth are only specks within the greater universe. In Pauling’s dream, humanity had developed so effectively as to reach beyond Earth to understand the entire universe. This dream, Pauling reveals, is an allegory for the possibilities that he saw as lying ahead for his generation.

From there, the speech chronicles the development of science and thought since ancient times in order to demonstrate the talk’s main argument: that Darwin’s theory of evolution can be applied to society, science and civilization. In this, Pauling describes the developments of the past as necessary steps to completing a “Great Design,” by which he means an entire universe that is progressing in accordance with the principles of evolution.

Pauling’s optimism and use of poetic language makes for an inspiring oration. The speech concludes on an even more hopeful note by suggesting that the youth of the day were privy to only the germs of unimaginable achievements yet to come. “It is impossible for us to imagine what developments in science and invention will be witnessed by the next generation,” Pauling wrote. “We are not the flower of civilization. We are but the immature bud of a civilization yet to come.”

William Black

William Black

Impressive as Pauling’s first competitive oration was, he wound up tying for second place in the OAC competition, losing top honors to William Black, a senior and three-time participant in the event. Contrary to Pauling’s idealistic and relatively simple premise, Black’s oration, titled “Our Tottering Civilization,” presented an elaborate and frankly racist view of the times. Black’s main argument was that interactions with “peoples of color” would be the demise of civilization as a whole. Black further suggested that in order to safeguard its civilization, the white race needed to secure its natural resources and keep people of color at bay. Black likewise worried that European culture could be lost forever if other cultures were to gain further sway over world social, political and economic affairs.

At the time, China and Japan had undergone periods of rapid modernization and immigrants from east Asia were very well established as active participants in the U.S. economy. The arguments issued in “Our Tottering Civilization” largely stem from a fear that further development of these cultures, both in and beyond the United States, could eventually lead to the subjugation of Western ideals. Black’s oration concludes by exhorting white nations to join forces against the further development of “colored” nations. Despite the fact that Black’s speech is overtly racist, it eventually won second place in the state-wide intercollegiate oratory contest, perhaps because of the complexity of the issues that it dealt with, or maybe because Black was an especially compelling speaker in person.


This episode in Linus Pauling’s life, in which he battles for the crown of top college orator, offers an interesting glimpse into the culture of the early 20th century. While many elements of the era would appear almost foreign in a contemporary context, they do offer important evidence of the values and training that Pauling was exposed to long before becoming a world-renowned peace activist and public speaker.  Next week we’ll examine another important talk that Pauling gave as an undergraduate; one that has special relevance to events happening right now on the OSU campus.

Young Love

Ava Helen Miller with Linus Pauling, 1922.

Ava Helen Miller with Linus Pauling, 1922.

[An excerpt from Ava Helen Pauling: Partner, Activist, Visionary, by Dr. Mina Carson – now available from the Oregon State University Press.]

As a senior Linus Pauling was quite clear about what he wanted to do – Chemistry – and where he was going – to graduate school at Harvard, Berkeley, or the new California Institute of Technology – until his infatuation with Ava Helen briefly threatened to derail his life project. Occasionally he wavered. “Up until the time you came into my life,” he told her, “my work was sufficient for me.” Perhaps he should marry her right away, work for a while to save money for graduate school, and follow his dream later? He worried about her being idle or anxious; he nursed some guilt at keeping her waiting while he followed his passion.

Their mothers wanted nothing to do with an early wedding. Nora Gard Miller wanted this daughter to finish college. Belle Pauling probably wanted no interference with her own claim on Linus’s earnings, but she argued that he needed to go to graduate school and get his Ph.D. before he committed himself to this marriage. She did tell Linus’s sisters and cousins what a “sweet” girl Ava Helen was. The young couple was determined to marry, but complied with their mothers’ wishes and laid plans for several years away from each other.

As early as June 1922, just a few months after they had begun to date, they were sharing intimate details. Linus wrote not just about his reading, but also about his finances, his diet, his sunburn, and his conviction that he was getting broader across the chest.

When I stand in my birthday suit in front of my big mirror my chest seems larger than it used to be. My hips are broad compared with my waste [sic], but not compared with my chest. I have a number of rather fine dark hairs on my chest too — perhaps some day I’ll be all fuzzy. I don’t think so, though, and I don’t care to be.

Linus Pauling (second from right) with the paving crew, 1922.

Linus Pauling (second from right) with the paving crew, 1922.

From Linus’s work site in Warrenton, Oregon, that summer of 1922 Ava Helen received daily letters from her doting and busy fiance. When he wasn’t doing his paving inspector work for the state highway department, he was reading French and working physical chemistry problems supplied by his soon-to-be Caltech mentor, A. A. Noyes. A special office for the paving inspector had yet to be built at Astoria, and Linus got to oversee that project. She read letters filled with cheerful reflections on his co-workers, his chemistry problems, his hopes for the future, his successful attempt to secure a loan from his Uncle Jim (“The Miller girls are splendid women and I am quite sure this particular one will make you a good helpmate,” Linus quoted his uncle), and his overflowing love for her (“you are the dearest girl in the world”).

Although we have few of Ava Helen’s letters to Linus from this period, his own daily letters respond to hers in detail. She wrote to him about her financial worries, and he reassured her that he would share his loan and his earnings with her. For the first time in his life he felt free to spend or save the money he earned, without accounting to his mother for every dollar. A loan of $1000 from uncle Jim Campbell was earmarked for his mother and sisters, so Linus could move on to graduate school without lingering worries for them. To his future wife he reported that he had “never become intimate with my family.” Despite his mother’s high expectations of his dutiful obedience, and his own guilty feelings as he tore away, he kept a large part of his inner life barricaded away from them. Once he admitted to her that he did not help them much financially, whereas his sister Pauline did.

He was eager to protect her, too, from the careless comments of their friends, who suggested that a long separation might lead to Linus looking at other girls. “Being apart won’t make us forget each other, sweetheart – nothing can separate us in spirit.” They spent the July 4 weekend together that summer, and other evenings every so often. By the end of July, Linus’s restlessness had issued in a new plea to his beloved: Would she consider marrying this September, rather than waiting another year, or two, or three?

This query came out of the blue. The prolonged separation ahead while he completed graduate school in California and she slogged through OAC was suddenly intolerable. But more pressing even than their families’ reluctance to bless a precipitate union was the money question. Linus knew that he must do his graduate work. As he saw it, the only way to assure her lifelong happiness was for him to be “out-of-the-ordinary.” Though this sounds hilariously narcissistic now, there was wisdom in his reasoning. He needed his work to be happy: to be complete. He reassured her that, if he had to choose, he would choose her over his chemistry, but this was not always the tune he played, and fortunately for him, Ava Helen did not want him to make that sacrifice. For the next fifty years she hewed to the same standard. She relied on him to be extraordinary. The time would come when she would look back with regret at having failed to seize that kind of ambition for herself. But she did not begrudge him his fame, won by brilliance, persistence, and her own household management. She thrived on his fame.

Linus and Ava Helen with Pauline Pauling and Wallace Stockton, Pauline's first husband. 1922.

Linus and Ava Helen with Pauline Pauling and Wallace Stockton, Pauline’s first husband. 1922.

In the summer of 1922, Linus tried to figure out how much money they would need to live together in Pasadena as he pursued his graduate studies and she continued her education at one of the California universities. How much of a loan would they need to supplement his $600 stipend? He wondered if she would be willing to share a house with his OAC friend Paul Emmett, who would also attend Caltech, and Paul’s mother. He worried that they would not be able to afford a piano for Ava Helen. He knew they could hardly afford the wedding they hoped for. As he wrote, he started to talk himself out of what he knew was an impractical scheme. Yet he waited anxiously for her reply. Touching back to the vivid everyday world, he asked her about the crabs he had sent over from the coast. He returned to his fantasy.

A few days ago this would have seemed like the wildest dream. Now it seems not improbable. I’m not building my hopes high, tho, sweet. I wish you could talk it over with your mother.

Before she answered he rushed a second letter into the mail. He called himself “careless” for proposing an early marriage. “Dear heart, I so abhor mediocrity. I want our life to be wonderful.” He knew he must devote his energies to graduate study and somehow simultaneously carry out this agonizing long-distance courtship.

Ava Helen wrote back to Linus and offered a plan. They could get ahead financially if she got a job to supplement their income while he studied. He nixed that idea. “You are not equipped for work you like nor can you make a great deal.” During the last week of July Linus’s feelings racketed around like a pinball. He brought himself to the point of believing that they would certainly marry, and even planned the day of the event and the honeymoon (a night in a hotel).

Then he spoke to his mother. Onto his longing Belle poured all the cold water she could chill. Why didn’t Ava Helen’s family finance her schooling? Why hadn’t she worked over the summer? Why couldn’t she work in Oregon over the coming year? What if something went wrong in his graduate studies? What kind of gratitude would an early marriage show for the “sacrifices” his family had made for him? Surely he owed them the Ph.D. (an interesting assertion from the woman who had begrudged him his bachelor’s studies). What if poverty embittered the young couple? What if they had a baby? What if one of them fell ill? Further, the Emmetts could not provide a suitable place to live in Pasadena. Mrs. Emmett disapproved of Paul even dating before he finished his graduate work. And they too were struggling financially.

Linus Pauling and Paul Emmett: life-long friends and two of the twentieth century's greatest chemists.  Posing together as OAC undergraduates, 1920.

Linus Pauling and Paul Emmett: life-long friends and two of the twentieth century’s greatest chemists. Posing together as OAC undergraduates, 1920.

It was a litany of disasters that only a mother’s mind could marshal. Linus’s dreams were shattered. He had planned to write to Ava Helen’s mother, but now he even gave up that step.

Dear heart, I believe now that perhaps it would be unwise of us to be married….I think that my rather blind enthusiasm has caused me to forget things.

Now repeatedly he asked her not to tell either of their mothers that he was helping her out financially. The young man’s agony and the irresolution of life in two places resonates through the correspondence. Even his mother had to admit that she had “never seen a couple so completely gone on each other.” However, Linus’s unquenchably cheery disposition provided ballast. While he was being pulled apart by irreconcilable desires, he was also enjoying crab fritters, mayonnaise, malted milk, and Ava Helen’s candy. His appetite was healthy and his taste for his chemistry problems unabated. He made friends easily at the work site and enjoyed his neighbors across the hall and the woman who ran the restaurant where he ate most meals. He was not a man waffling in his love or evading his beloved, but he believed in the future and could face disappointment in the present. “We are making our small sacrifice now so that our gift to the world may be perfect.”

And Ava Helen was a woman who, for all her little-girl flirtatiousness, could cut to the heart of the matter. “It hurt me a little,” Linus admitted in a letter a few days later, “that you thot it was just because of my mother’s wishes that we aren’t married.” He wrote that he would do whatever Ava Helen wished — though he did not see how he could resign his assistantship or manage his loans. She had acutely assessed his dependence on Belle’s good opinion, and perhaps used it to poke him after her disappointment. But she also stuck to her sensible belief that they needed to minimize their financial dependence, and she too resigned herself to waiting for marriage.

Ava Helen Miller, 1920.

Ava Helen Miller, 1920.

In early September Linus detoured through Corvallis on his way to stay with his family in Portland for a few days before taking off with Paul Emmett for their big adventure at Caltech. “They are too dense to ask if I had been to see you, and I’m not going to tell them outright.” He planned to circle back through Corvallis one more time. There is an unusual break in the daily letters between September 6 and September 16, so the couple probably spent a few days together in that period of time, either in Corvallis or perhaps Portland. “Did you get to Corvallis all right? Did you cry because your bad boy left you?” Linus wrote on the 16th.

Her fiance’s description of his trip to California, and his lyrical portraits of Pasadena, the mountains, and the coast, suggest one compelling reason the Paulings made their lifelong home in California. From the beginning Linus was entranced by the state’s natural beauty and its architectural charms. Housing was expensive, though. He stayed in a hotel while he waited to move into the Emmetts’ new house, bought for $6500, which struck Linus as very high. “Our house is a beautiful little place, as are all of them here. Pasadena is lovely — there are all kinds of palms — some forty feet tall and some three feet thru. There are orange groves a hundred feet from our house, and all the way to school, and there are palms in front of the house. It is all beautiful. The pepper trees are delicate lacy things. I’m enclosing some leaves,” he wrote, sending her a bit of his new world; ” — they may lose their odor, tho.” He fantasized all year about how they would hike the hills together, and perhaps have their own little house.

ahp-bio

Ava Helen Pauling: Partner, Activist, Visionary is available for purchase from the Oregon State University Press.

The Story of 1985

Linus Pauling speaking at Oregon State University with the United Nations Bomb Test petition. 1986.

[A look back 25 years in honor of the Pauling birthday anniversary on February 28th.]

Even after a long, exhausting and prestigious career, Linus Pauling remained active and engaged throughout the latter years of his life. During the year 1985, he spent an impressive amount of time speaking and traveling around the country. Roughly four years had passed since the death of Ava Helen, and in her absence Linus kept himself busy writing papers, sharing new ideas, and defending old ones. Though he continued to make contributions to the peace movement throughout the 1980s, Pauling scaled back his activism for much of 1985 to defend a growing movement which sought to diminish the legitimacy of his nutrition advocacy.

Over the previous years, Pauling had become a strong supporter of vitamin supplements for the treatment and prevention of illness and disease. Most notable was his insistence that vitamin C could be used to significantly improve the condition of cancer patients. Ewan Cameron, a surgeon from Scotland who had been in contact with Pauling for several years, undertook a study to treat cancer patients with vitamin C. The outcome from the study, released in 1976, reported longer survival rates and a number of other positive effects in terminal cancer patients who had been administered high doses of vitamin C.

A study addressing Cameron’s results was later released by the Mayo Clinic, overseen by a professor of oncology named Charles Moertel. The study refuted conclusions from Cameron’s research, and insisted that the results from his study were not reproducible. According to Pauling and Cameron, this was largely due to Moertel’s unwillingness to correctly match the design of Cameron’s work. Though much of the scientific community was generally unreceptive to Pauling’s promotion of vitamin mega-dosing, this initial Mayo Clinic study did not fully repudiate Pauling and Cameron’s claims.

In 1985 a second study was released by the Mayo Clinic, the intention of which was to more closely replicate the conditions of Cameron’s experiment. The final results of the study countered Cameron’s claims once again, and this time the study was almost unanimously accepted by the scientific establishment. Pauling promptly denounced the second study, and spent a great deal of energy fighting the perceived conclusiveness of its findings.

Perhaps the most substantial objection issued by Pauling was that the Mayo studies were using a different framework to measure the success of vitamin C treatment. The Moertel study stopped testing when no visible tumor recession appeared, whereas a primary emphasis for Cameron’s earlier study involved measuring quality of life improvements for the patients undergoing treatment. Though tumor recession was a goal of Cameron’s study, it was not the ultimate determinant of its success.

Shortly after the release of the second Mayo study, a dip was experienced in mail-in donations to the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. Pauling largely blamed the Mayo Clinic for these decreases, which partially explains the ferocity of his response. Even with these setbacks however, the Institute remained open, and Pauling was able to carry on with life-as-usual for the most part.

Though most of Pauling’s work during the year was focused on refuting results from the Mayo Clinic study and promoting his vitamin C agenda, he still managed to publish other material that was somewhat unrelated to the controversy. He finished his final book, How to Live Longer and Feel Better, the last of sixteen books written by Pauling. The book offers suggestions for a healthy lifestyle, touching on physical and mental practices, and appeared on the New York Times’ bestseller list when it was first published in 1986.

He also authored several articles addressing chemical bonds, quantum chemistry and crystal structure theory. Several publications involving quasicrystals were perhaps his most notable works for the year in this regard. Upon their classification as such, quasicrystals were a category of crystal that seemed to violate the prevailing crystallographic principles of the time. A number of theories were produced to explain their irregular tendencies, and Pauling formed a hypothesis that received widespread attention among his peers.

Besides his turbulent interactions with the scientific community throughout the year, Pauling was also kept busy by a number of personal affairs. His friend of over 60 years, Paul Emmett, died in April, and Pauling attended his funeral in Portland later that month.

Though the debate over vitamin C absorbed much of Pauling’s attention during the year, he still managed to travel, write, speak for peace and relax at his Big Sur ranch. If nothing else, Pauling’s impressive age and remarkable vigor provide a convincing testament to his behavior and lifestyle advocacy. Throughout the rest of the 1980s, Pauling’s routine and activity would change very little.