Belle Pauling: Hard Times

Belle Pauling, 1910s.

Belle Pauling, 1910s.

Widowed with three kids, Belle Pauling found herself at a major crossroads in life at the young age of 29.  After initially seeking out some measure of continuity by hiring a manager for her deceased husband’s drugstore, Belle was soon forced to sell both the store and her house in order to buy a larger house. Her intent in doing so was to take on boarders, one of the few income possibilities open to her, given that all three of her children were still under the age of ten.

Having never been in charge of the family finances, Belle made some initial mistakes as she overpaid for the house and, in hopes of offering an attractive place for boarders, bought several expensive appliances.  She also hired someone to cook and clean.  Burdened by these expenses, Belle chronically teetered on the edge of being able to make enough rental income to support her and the children.

Belle’s life began to crumble in other ways as well. Her years-long battle with depression only worsened and she was soon diagnosed with pernicious anemia, which left her physically weak.  At first she refrained from telling the children, as she did not want to frighten them with the possibility that they may soon lose their mother.  Left to care for the children by herself, Belle let them run free around the neighborhood well into the night.  She was also unprepared to deal with her maturing daughters.   As Pauline later recalled, Belle made her and Lucile feel that menstruation “was a scourge that afflicted only women in their family.”

Belle found some relief through weekend visits to Herman’s parents, times during which she could reminisce about the days when her husband and their son was still living.  She also fulfilled one of her lifelong dreams of owning a piano. She and the children began taking lessons and would have singing parties:  Lucile, who took the most to the piano, would play as Pauline joined on ukulele and Linus sang.  In 1913 the family was also able to take a vacation to the Oregon coast, staying in the house of a friend.  This was the only time that the family would take such a trip.

Lucile, Linus, Belle and Pauline, 1916.

Lucile, Linus, Belle and Pauline, 1916.

Once Linus was 13, he began to help out more by taking on odd jobs – delivering papers, milk, and letters, selling meat, and projecting movies.  He didn’t particularly enjoy this work, but Belle came to depend on him more and more for income, so after quitting one job he would soon have to find another.  He even found short-term employment resetting pins at a bowling alley while the family vacationed at the coast.

Belle’s dependence on her children, especially on Linus and Pauline, began to wear on them.  After Belle had to let the cook and maid go, she relied even more on the children to take care of the house.  Linus later remembered his mother “issuing requests and orders and browbeating the children, often from her bed.”

On one occasion, Lucile had taken a boy’s bike for a ride without his permission.  Once she was finished, the boy punched Lucile to the ground.  When she came home crying to her brother, imploring him to go beat up the boy, Linus refused.  Belle strongly disapproved of Linus’s decision and admonished him as a bad brother. Unsurprisingly, as he reached adolescence, Linus began distancing himself more and more from his mother.

As Pauline reached her teenage years, she also came under pressure from Belle.  Rather than look for a job to bring in income, Belle wanted Pauline to marry someone wealthy.  When Pauline was seventeen, Belle had found just the man for her.  Pauline did not take well to her mother’s pressure, particularly since the man was thirty years old.  Belle’s persistence became unbearable and Pauline eventually called the police, telling them that her mother was forcing her into marriage with a much older man.

In the fall of 1917, Linus enrolled at Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis.  Belle’s nephew, Mervyn Stephenson, was already a junior there and so she arranged for Linus to live in the same boarding house.  Had her nephew not been there, Belle would not have let Linus attend college, and she continued to believe that he should keep working to help support the family.  She rode down to Corvallis with Linus to stay with him for his first night there and to make sure that everything was in order.  After she left, any pretense that her nephew would help Linus disappeared; he offered Linus some advice on getting by in college and after that the two saw very little of each other.  Linus moved out of the boarding house soon afterward.

William Bryden and Belle Pauling.

William Bryden and Belle Pauling.

With Linus away and not working as much, Belle began a courtship with William Brace Bryden, a lumberman.  In a manner very similar to her first encounter with Herman nearly twenty years earlier, Belle’s sister Goldie set the two up on a blind date.  By June 1918 they were married, but it did not last long.  Bryden was not helpful and neither Pauline nor Lucile liked him.  Additionally, when Belle came down with the flu, Bryden offered little assistance.  After Belle recovered and was strong enough, the two constantly argued until, one day in September, Bryden left to go to the barbershop and never came back.

While Linus attended college, he continued to work and send money home to his mother.  By the Spring of 1922, Linus was ready to step further away from his mother’s influence.  He and Ava Helen Miller were recently engaged to be married and Linus made plans to attend graduate school in southern California, where he hoped Ava Helen would join him.  Belle and Ava Helen’s mother, Nora Gard Miller, quickly intervened.  Both mothers thought it best that their child finish their educations before getting married.  The young couple gave in and Linus went to California alone.

With Linus nearly 1,000 miles away, Belle kept him up-to-date on life in Portland, and the news was often not good.  As her health continued to worsen, Belle began to see doctors more and more.  One doctor had her fast for three days and then stayed with her all day as he administered one quart of olive oil over four doses.  Belle told her son, “It is a wonderful treatment, takes all the poisons out of your system.  I feel like a new woman.  I am weak yet but will soon feel strong.”  The positive effects rarely lasted long though and Belle continued to seek out different treatments, sometimes against Linus’s wishes.

In October 1922, Linus sent Belle a letter trying to get his debts to her in order.  This shocked Belle as she could not understand why Linus felt that he owed her, preferring that he continue to support her and his sisters out of purer motives.  Nonetheless, her response could not have helped but make him feel either guilty or resentful:

Do you think because I have let you help carry the burden this year that you are repaying me for money I gave you for your education or the cost of your living since you were born or perhaps pay me for the pain I suffered in bring you into this world… You are helping the girls and not me personally… I have never worried when I had money to give you but I have worried a lot because I couldn’t help you more.

Part of Linus’s money was going to support Pauline’s college tuition – she had also gone on to OAC, leaving Belle and Lucile alone in Portland.  Belle and her youngest daughter got along relatively well and the two traveled together and spent days out shopping downtown.  Both of them were also members of the Order of the Eastern Star; Belle was able to join earlier only because she had made Linus join the Masons.  At the meetings, Lucile sometimes sang, which pleased Belle even more.

Linus, however, continued to disappoint his mother.  One year, while in Pasadena, he had forgotten her birthday. Belle did not take this well, writing:

I look around me and I see lots of young men who have mothers (and fathers too) who are lovely to their mothers.  I tell myself over and over that you do not mean to be unkind but even so such a situation is very depressing.

Linus and Ava Helen also began to make new plans to marry and this gave Belle even more to worry about, as she wanted them to hold the ceremony near to her.  Linus, though, did not include Belle in on the planning, giving her another cause for concern.

Linus made up for all of this by sending his mother a birthday card and a letter which made Belle “feel so much better.”  Ava Helen also tried to bring her some comfort by offering to come up to visit her, but Belle claimed she was too busy as she had four boarders to attend to at the time.  At long last, in June 1923, Linus drove up to Salem, where he and Ava Helen were married. The two then drove to Portland to stay with Belle before going down to California for Linus to continue his schooling.  They returned in the summer of 1925 with their first-born child, Linus Jr.

By that time Pauline had married the athletic director of the local Elk’s Club and the two had moved to Los Angeles.  This devastated Belle, causing her to collapse.  From then on Lucile was the only one around to care for Belle, whose health continued to deteriorate.  Belle began to suffer bouts of delusion and loss of feeling and movement in her limbs. She left many of the household decisions and responsibilities up to Lucile, something for which the nineteen-year-old was not well prepared.

Belle with her grandson Linus Jr., 1925.

Belle with her grandson Linus Jr., 1925.

In March 1926, Linus and Ava Helen came to visit on their way to Europe.  They needed someone to take care of Linus Jr. and had arranged to leave him with Ava Helen’s mother.  When Linus saw his own mother, he was shocked by her appearance – her gray hair and poor balance were clear indications that she was not doing well.  He was tempted to cancel the trip, but ended up going, leaving some money behind to help pay for the increasing expenses surrounding Belle’s care.

Two weeks after Linus and Ava Helen left, Belle sold her home to Lucile for ten dollars, who rented the house out so that she and her mother could move to a smaller apartment.  But Belle’s condition only worsened as she became increasingly restless and had trouble sleeping.  Her moods also grew more volatile, moving from suspicion to happiness to fear.  Eventually Belle’s behavior became so unmanageable for Lucile that she called her aunt Goldie to help.  The two decided that it was best that Belle be moved to the state mental hospital in Salem.  Her admittance form summed up Belle’s difficult life:

Natural disposition? ‘Moral character good.  Disposition happy.  Lost husband 16 years ago – raised family through great struggles.’

First symptoms of mental derangement? ‘Worried from illness and too much responsibility.’

Lucy Isabelle (Darling) Pauling passed away in Salem on July 12, 1926.


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.

Ava Helen in Oregon

Ava Helen Miller (third from bottom) with her seven sisters. 1918.

Ava Helen Pauling was born Ava Helen Miller on her family’s farm near Oregon City on December 24, 1903.

At the time of her birth, Ava had nine siblings. Her father had come to the northwest from Germany in his teens, and was an elementary school teacher in the Willamette Valley before becoming a farmer. As a result, Ava later remarked that, while growing up, there was a great deal of respect in her family for the teaching profession. Her mother was born in Beaver Creek, Oregon to parents who had come to the west by wagon and on foot from Illinois and Missouri.

Ava’s parents met while her mother was a student in her father’s classroom. Her parents eventually divorced when Ava was nine, having, at that point, had two more children together – a grand total of twelve altogether. Her father eventually settled in Chicago for a time and had little-to-no contact with Ava for most of her life. The farm was left to her mother, who finished raising the youngest children that still remained.  (Much more on Ava Helen’s ancestry is available here.)

The family later lived in Canby, Oregon, which is likely where Ava finished grammar school. Ava then attended high school in Salem while living with an older sister. She graduated in June of 1921, and enrolled at Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis the following year.

During her time as an undergraduate student she took a great number of English, French and Spanish courses. She also took a chemistry class every term, as well as at least one course in physical education. Her home economics courses were more varied and included clothing and textiles, child care and food preparation and selection. Overall she did quite well, finishing with a 89.21 grade point average, and would have finished even higher had she not received an F in an English course during winter term of her freshman year.

Ava Helen Miller at the entrance to the Jason Lee Cemetery, Salem, Oregon. 1920.

It was, coincidentally or not, during that same winter term that Ava met Linus Pauling, as a student in his class. She later wrote of their initial encounter:

In recitation room #211. Chemistry O.A.C. He was my teacher – a student assistant. His curls are lovely.

Following their first meeting, it was some time before the two spent any more time together. An instructor had recently been severely criticized for the attention that he had paid to one of his students, and though Pauling was obviously quite taken with Ava from the beginning, he was determined not to endure the same fate.

One day, however, a note came back to Ava in her chemistry notebook stating that if she waited after class, Pauling would walk across campus with her. The two walked, and then went for more walks, becoming better and better acquainted over the following months.

By the end of the school year, Ava had written Linus a check for the amount of “My heart, my life, my love, my all.” The two wished to marry, but their mothers would not grant permission. Linus resumed working for the Oregon State Highway Commission the following summer while Ava stayed with her mother. During the summer Ava wrote Pauling at least 94 letters, receiving just as many in return.

Ava resumed classes at O.A.C. the following autumn and Linus began his graduate studies at the California Institute of Technology. The two continued to write each other throughout the next year. It is apparent over the course of their exchange that, though they missed each other greatly, both managed to stay well-occupied during their time apart. Linus was working intently on his crystallographic research while overseeing classes and labs. Ava was busy keeping up with friends and her sophomore year classes.

The two stayed close through their correspondence, and shared the daily workings of their lives. Ava sometimes sent Linus candy, and Linus sometimes sent Ava flowers. Above all however, they discussed the prospects of their marriage, and their eager anticipation of the time that they would be spending together in the future.

Ava Helen Miller and Linus Pauling with two O.A.C. classmates. 1922.

Ava and Linus decided to marry following the completion of Linus’ first year of graduate studies, with or without the permission of their mothers. From the perspective of the young couple, they had already been engaged for over a year. They began discussing the details of their forthcoming wedding, informed relatives and purchased their rings.

After waiting over a year longer than had initially been intended, Linus and Ava married in Salem, Oregon on June 17, 1923. The two would spend a brief honeymoon in Corvallis before moving to Portland over the summer. During those summer months, Linus worked for the Warren Construction Company. With the onset of autumn, the newlyweds returned to Pasadena, where Linus renewed his studies at the California Institute of Technology.

For more information on the Paulings in Oregon, check out our Oregon 150 series.

Happy (Belated) Birthday Oregon!

Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood, 1943.  Part of the OSU Archives new addition to the Flickr Commons.

Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood, 1943. Part of the OSU Archives' new addition to the Flickr Commons.

This past Saturday, the state of Oregon officially celebrated its 150th birthday.  In the state capital of Salem, the birthday proper was marked by, among other things, a 400 pound cake, speeches delivered by eight of our most prominent dignitaries, and a rare public display of the original Oregon constitution…somewhere far away from all of that cake, one hopes.

Closer to home, we’re pleased to pass along word of an exciting project launched by our colleagues in the Oregon State University Archives — membership in the Flickr Commons.  OSU Archives is the twenty-first institution to join the Commons and the very first university.  Their inaugural contribution to the Commons project is a set of Civilian Conservation Corps photos extracted from the mammoth Gerald W. Williams Collection (pdf link).  The images and their descriptions are well worth a look.

The sesquicentennial celebration will be observed statewide throughout 2009, and will feature a wide swath of projects and activities, many of which are aggregated at the official Oregon150 website.

Minus the website, the Beaver state took much the same approach five decades ago as it reflected upon its first 100 years of statehood.  Locally, at what was then known as Oregon State College, a symposium on the next one-hundred years in forestry was perhaps the capstone event of the campus centenary fete, although an apparent trend in “centennial beards” likely kept both faculty and students in the proper frame of mind for twelve months of festivities.

Linus Pauling contributed to the anniversary occasion, if in a somewhat minor way.  On April 2, 1959 – seemingly rather late in the proceedings given that the 100th birthday had been marked a month and a half before – the co-chairmen of the Oregon Centennial Commission’s Committee on Higher Education wrote to Pauling:

Oregon is making every effort to create a memorable Centennial observance and some eight million persons are expected to visit the state during this once-in-a-hundred-years event.  The Committee on Higher Education felt that it could best demonstrate the high quality of Oregon colleges and universities by giving both citizens and visitors an opportunity to hear some of the alumni who have gained prominence in a variety of fields….We will ask each lecturer to make three speeches, one in Portland and two elsewhere in the state, sometime between June 1 and September 30.

Pauling was amenable to this idea:

I suggest that my topic be “Science in the Modern World.”  I shall be pleased to give a talk in Portland, which is my birthplace.  As to the two other places, I am willing to leave the decision to you.  I was married in Salem, and for this reason Salem seems to me to be a possibility for one of the speeches….My first schooling was obtained in Condon, but I think that Condon is too small a place for a speech.  Possibly southern Oregon would be worth while – Medford or Ashland.

And so it was that Pauling delivered three Oregon centennial lectures, one in Ashland on September 10, 1959, one in Portland on September 14, and one in Salem on September 15.

The topic of his talk, “Science in the Modern World,” was something of stump lecture that Pauling often delivered to popular audiences. (We’ve digitized three versions of the talk for various projects over the years: the 1951 version, a commencement address from 1958 and a Michigan State University talk from April 1959.)  The Oregon centennial edition was slightly different in that Pauling evidently included a few remarks on his ancestral roots.  The two pages of notes that he used for these presentations are included below.