Swirling

Ava Helen Pauling speaking at a "No More Hiroshimas" march, sponsored by Women Strike for Peace. August 1961. San Francisco, California.

Ava Helen Pauling speaking at a “No More Hiroshimas” march, sponsored by Women Strike for Peace. August 1961. San Francisco, California.

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

Linus’s night on the cliff at Salmon Cone proved a stutter but not an interruption of the Paulings’ accelerating peace work from the late 1950s into the early 1960s. Typically, Ava Helen did not pause, at least in writing, over her scare that night and Linus’s post-traumatic reactions. By early 1960 she had plunged into her service as a board member of the United States section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Within WILPF, she had a new cause: the promotion of an international congress of women for peace.

Linda Richards, a student of nuclear politics, has posited that there is a style of activism that might be characterized as “swirling” or circulating: one individual flowing through a number of different networks and organizations, planting seeds of ideas, making connections, circling back to remind people of their promises and possibilities. This is the kind of activist Ava Helen became. Though her name appeared on the masthead of her organizations for limited periods of time, and is not frequently found in the national and international archives of these groups, her correspondence attests to her wide-ranging contacts, her polite yet direct approach to getting things done, and her persistence. In addition, the blunt and sometimes impatient Ava Helen rears her mischievous head.

The Paulings, 1960.

The Paulings, 1960.

Ava Helen’s service in WILPF and her breathtaking international travel schedule, as she talked with and befriended women around the world, fertilized the feminist thought in her approach to activism. More and more she was called on to be the voice of women acting for peace. Claire Walsh at the United States WILPF headquarters in Philadelphia asked Ava Helen after her appointment to the national board if she would be available to give talks to small groups of WILPF members.

I should be very happy to speak … if you think that I have something of interest to say to them. I suppose that you are suggesting that I tell about such matters as our visit to Dr. Schweitzer and other things of interest which I may have observed on our many travels.

She had already given speeches on Russia, particularly conditions for women and children, on conservation, and on the international WILPF meeting in Stockholm. She was mobbed after her speeches, and her skills grew. “I don’t know why you should fret over a speech; you couldn’t make a bad one, not with that delivery power you sway,” a friend assured her. In March 1961, inviting her and Linus to speak to the recently organized Canadian branch of the Voice of Women (VOW), Jan Symons wrote to Ava Helen that, according to the VOW members, she was “becoming as much of a celebrity as your husband.”

When the Paulings traveled together, now most of the time, there was little hiatus from demands on their time and energies. “I only regret that we are such dreadful guests,” she wrote one hostess on returning from New York in late 1960. “The telephone rings every two minutes and I am sure that our hostesses are always glad to see us leave.” The Paulings welcomed the new student movement of the 1960s, and student activists began inviting both Linus and Ava Helen to their events. In May 1960 the Paulings joined the San Francisco Peace March.


Group photo of participants in the Oslo Conference, 1961.

Group photo of participants in the Oslo Conference, 1961.

At the beginning of 1961 the Paulings launched two related projects: a new petition drive to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and a May meeting in Oslo of world scientists and intellectuals to precede a scheduled NATO ministers’ meeting in the same month. The young Kennedy administration seemed willing on the one hand to go forward with test-ban negotiations, and on the other to share nuclear weapons with NATO allies. The Paulings shifted their focus slightly to take on the issue of proliferation. The petition drive of 1957 to 1959 had worked very well. Now they sent the new petitions to two thousand of their previous signers and received seven hundred signatures back, including thirty-eight Nobel Prize winners. These Pauling presented to the United Nations, as before, and immediately broadened the appeal. The Pauling home again became command central for a mailing drive of international proportions. The response was positive, though there was a bit of confusion about a simultaneous petition circulated by SANE calling for an end to testing. Ava Helen had to explain to at least one correspondent that both petitions were “worthwhile,” but that theirs focused on nonproliferation.

Simultaneously, the Paulings started rounding up support for the proposed meeting in Oslo to bring together scientists from Soviet satellites as well as western countries, to contest the NATO stance that it was impossible to cooperate with Soviet-dominated governments. Underlining that this project was theirs alone, they had stationery made up under the title “Conference Against the Spread of Nuclear Weapons, Oslo, Norway, 2 to 7 May 1961,” under their names and home address in Pasadena. Individuals listed as sponsors included Karl Barth, Max Born, Mrs. Cyrus Eaton, Erich Fromm, Lewis Mumford, Gunnar Myrdal, Alan Paton, Bertrand Russell, Albert Schweitzer, and Hideki Yukawa. The Paulings had emphasized to prospective attendees – only about seventy-five were invited – that there were no organizational sponsors except a Norwegian group handling local arrangements. The Paulings also offered to pay the travel costs of participants.

Always on the move - the Paulings in 1961.

Always on the move – the Paulings in 1961.

Ava Helen used her network of connections to push the petition and raise money for the conference. Her friend Jan Symons, a recent migrant from New Zealand to Canada, warned her that some of her new acquaintances in Quebec shied away from the Paulings’ petition for several reasons, chief among them the Communist bugaboo. Their new Canadian organization, the Voice of Women, was feeling the anti-Communist heat, and the Paulings were perceived as leftwing and untrustworthy (Linus’s warnings about smoking apparently representing a medical fringe element). Within VOW, Symons claimed, Ava Helen was declared to be “as much of a celebrity as your husband,” but outside the group, both VOW and WILPF were suspect. “One nice Quaker woman psychiatrist told me that it undoubtedly had a bad name in the U.S. as Communist.” Like Ava Helen, Jan Symons was exasperated.

We are told we are peace-loving, that it is the Russians, the Communists who want war … I notice that when people get Russian scientists to sign petitions against war, however, they are dismissed as only another Communist front.

Despite some peace workers’ reluctance to sign the petition, the Oslo conference was a heartening success for the Paulings. On the way they visited France, where Linus received a prestigious award from the city of Paris; they arrived in Oslo on May 4. Sixty scientists, intellectuals, and peace activists attended from around the world, including the Soviet Union. Else Zeuthen, international chair of WILPF, joined nine or ten other WILPF leaders at the conference. Without agendas in hand at the beginning of the meeting, the participants shifted into high gear almost immediately to draft, collectively, a statement for post-conference circulation among the citizens of the world. The group included members of the test-ban negotiating teams of both the United States and the Soviet Union; the collective level of expertise at the conference was high, attesting to the Paulings’ global credibility. The statement the group hammered out called for a ban on the spread of nuclear weapons to any more nations or groups of nations; universal disarmament to prevent a “cataclysmic nuclear war”; and international controls and inspection of nuclear weapons “such as to insure to the greatest possible extent the safety of all nations and all people.” Linus Pauling and Ava Helen Pauling were the first signatories – and the only ones directly under the statement text (other original signers were listed on the back of the copies circulated throughout the world for additional signatures).

Ava Helen opened the conference on the first night, and Linus gave a speech. In the mornings and evenings the Paulings circulated around the tables, checking in with people. Their friend from Berkeley, Dr. Frances Herring, remarked in a diary of the conference that Ava Helen looked “tragically tired.” Herring discovered that few of the attendees realized that the Paulings had underwritten the conference financially as well as morally.

There is to be a torch parade, winding from the Nobel Institute to the Grand Hotel (about a mile) tomorrow night, to honor the Paulings. That should make them feel good!

In fact, despite their exhaustion, both Paulings were delighted with the conference. “Everything has gone along almost perfectly,” Linus wrote. “The Aula meeting was grand. The Vice-Rector gave a speech thanking us. Friday night there was a great torchlight procession in our honor – quite a sight!” Else Zeuthen offered a longer reflection on the evening in her report to the WILPF membership.

A most striking moment of those eventful days was one evening after sunset, when the Paulings received the homage of a torchlight procession, standing on the balcony of their room on an upper floor of the Grand Hotel. Many members of our Norwegian Section were among the procession, whereas Inga Beskow and I enjoyed the wonderful show from the vantage point of a neighboring balcony of the Hotel. The torches flared beautifully in the soft spring night and filled the whole of Karl Johan, the impressive main thoroughfare of Oslo, as far as the eye could see. Numerous cries of ‘Thank you, Pauling’ sounded from the procession. The Paulings were much moved by this beautiful display of confidence; and how they deserved it for their brave and indefatigable work! Marie Lous Mohr [a Norwegian WILPF leader] at the festive dinner given to the Conference made a speech expressing a hope that Oslo might once more welcome Professor Pauling, and then as Nobel Peace Prize-Winner.

They stayed on in Oslo for several days. Linus gave a radio address and both Paulings spoke at the university as well as holding a press conference. They attended a cocktail party at the Russian Embassy. As always, every meal was an event. To Peter, Ava Helen admitted that they were exhausted, but “fairly contented” with the outcome. She too was impressed with the ceremony called out by international meetings: in this case, the NATO ministers meeting that directly followed their own. “The 50 star USA flag did, I must say, look beautiful waving in the spring winds. All the flags looked fine. I see why there must be a flag.”

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

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Mina Carson Interview, Part 2

Dr. Mina Carson.  Photo taken by her daughter, Lyn.

Dr. Mina Carson. Photo taken by her daughter, Lyn.

[Part 2 of 2 of our exclusive interview with Dr. Mina Carson, author of Ava Helen Pauling: Partner, Activist, Visionary.]

Pauling Blog: How would you describe Ava Helen’s style of activism? I know that Linda Richards used the word “swirled” in reference to it.

Mina Carson: Yeah, I think that’s right. Ava Helen really loved to have a big important correspondence and she was quite honest – I mean she was a good correspondent, she was quite honest in her letters and that’s where you get a lot of her personality, her style. She didn’t suffer fools – what she took to be fools – gladly and she didn’t mince words. At the same time, she was difficult with her kids and she was difficult with some people because she was pretty forceful, but she also liked to flirt and she liked to be nice and she liked to be considerate. So many, many people liked her very much and a number of young women took her as a mentor and model and really worshiped her and I think that’s fascinating.

But her style, she did do committee work for a while – actually off and on for her whole adult life – but it wasn’t her favorite thing to do. I think she liked to give speeches, I mean she developed that – she deprecated her own ability but I think that was just “oh I’m not so good at that…if you think I have something of worth to offer then I’m happy to make a speech.” But that’s really what she liked to do. And she loved to travel with Linus and she loved to travel period. She loved to be made much of – I mean who doesn’t? But she loved to be made much of, so that style of being able to travel around the world and connect her Australian friends with her Canadian friends and with her South American friends, that was her all the way through.

And when she was disgusted with the red baiting she saw in some American chapters of WILPF and the Women’s International League and some of the European chapters as well, and when Women Strike for Peace came along in the early ’60s, she didn’t jump ship, she was loyal to WILPF, she didn’t jump ship. But she immediately joined WSP as a number of her WILPF colleagues did, and that really suited her because it was a no holds barred “let’s do this action here, let’s kind of shock them a little, let’s show them that women in hats can really live on the dangerous side.” And she loved that. So she was very much a maker of connections rather than a person behind the scenes who liked to work on committees and start a project that would go on for years. Yeah, I really think that’s right.

PB: How about her style of feminism? It seems to have evolved over time.

MC: It did. And at the same time she ended up in the camp of liberal feminism really about the time that Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique. And of course she had a very strong critique of Betty Friedan, which was interesting. She felt that Friedan put down homemakers and homemaking, and of course Ava Helen had so much ego tied up in that identity that she rejected it. But at the same time she was what we call “liberal feminist” and she, for the most part, believed that women should be offered the same, or earn the same opportunities as men. And that she really didn’t like to look out into the world and see young women not taking opportunities – you know, not finishing college as she had not and not creating opportunities for themselves to have independence, financial independence and professional independence. From time to time, she loved to go back into the history of women through the world – not very carefully, but in broad strokes.

It’s interesting to try to figure out if she was an essentialist, believing that women are essentially different from men. She kind of skirted that. She was more of a functionalist in that she believed that women had filled certain roles because their societies has pressured them into doing that because they did it well, not because they were born to certain fates as people. It’s hard to sort out. She’s not a deep thinker – she’s an eager thinker, she’s a smart person – but she’s not really a philosopher. It’s fun to go through her papers. It’s fun to follow the threads of argument. I do not put her down. She makes better speeches than I do. But what I’m saying is that it doesn’t repay, really probing her philosophy, because that wasn’t her thing. She was more of a political activist, political thinker, than a philosopher.

Ava Helen in the 1950s.

Ava Helen in the 1950s.

PB: The title of the book is Ava Helen Pauling: Activist, Partner, Visionary. We’ve touched on the activist and partner piece of it, but I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the visionary piece.

MC: She really could see, as did Linus. And I think she saw without the deep scientific insight that he had. She saw immediately that if we continued down the road, for example of atmospheric testing, that we would destroy the next generation’s Earth and, in many cases, lives. She felt passionately about the public health risks and the ecological risks of atmospheric testing and the nuclear race in general. She was infuriated by our dedication of such a huge percentage of public funds to the military. I’ve made the point – and it’s not a very profound point – that she and Linus were not pacifists per se. They certainly were interventionists in World War II, but they did not see another conflict that they believed that the United States should enter over the rest of their lives. And they were internationalists and they believed that human energies and human resources would go a lot more usefully into maintaining peace and building education and so on.

She left part of her money in her will to Sempervirens, a California Redwoods Foundation, and was very much involved as she had the energy to be in her last few years as she was ill, but very much involved in saving the wilds. It was a natural trajectory for her interests to move toward ecology and environmentalism and so she really was, in that sense, a visionary. And I think that, again, she had many allies. And it’s not that she had really a number of original thoughts, it’s that she could see the interconnections of all these issues and it was clear to her and it made her very impatient and very angry. And of course, a number of us can certainly understand that passion.

PB: Where do you think she was happiest? Do you think it was the ranch?

MC: I wonder. She loved the ranch and she loved the times that she and Linus – she remarked at one point that “I can’t believe we haven’t seen a single soul in a week, two weeks, and that has not happened since we were married.” But she thrived on human contact, so I think that she saw the ranch as he did, as a kind of blessed relief from the relentless social and political round that they had. But I suspect that she was happiest in the middle of an adoring crowd. I just suspect that in some cases, at least, that the celebratory moments were the times when she was happiest.

But it could well have been too, as she got older – and this is really important – that her grandkids remember her, Cheryl Pauling for example, remembers her as a wonderful grandmother. And Linda’s and Barclay’s kids too, sensitive to their uniqueness, sensitive to their needs, their desires, their needs as children. It’s so interesting. And Stephanie makes the same comment about her kids with Linus Jr. So I think that she did like the large family gatherings. There was often friction, because she had raised a bunch of strong-willed kids. So it can be difficult. At the same time, she wasn’t one to wilt under difficulty and conflict. She didn’t have a thin skin. So I think she liked being in a lot of different places, but probably not home alone with young children when she was a young woman.

Thanksgiving with Linda Pauling Kamb and her family, 1968.

Thanksgiving with Linda Pauling Kamb and her family, 1968.

PB: What were some surprises for you as you went through this process?

MC: I was really surprised about how active and open their sex life was in the 1920s. I mean, I was really just flabbergasted and really enjoyed Linus’ letters to her and really was taken aback. And that led me to search the secondary literature on college students’ sexuality in the 1920s. And I found that there is not a whole lot of literature. I tried a whole bunch of search terms and I really need to follow that up because I think that’s fascinating – you’d think that there would be much more research on that. And I’ve a couple of scholarly friends that I want to follow up on after the fact just because it’s fascinating. So that was a big surprise.

I think that I wasn’t surprised but I was interested to see how Linus matured as a parent. When his kids hit their 20s, all of a sudden he was very involved as a parent. And I think it was fun to see – it’s not surprising when you think about who he was. He was pretty laissez faire when the kids were small, but at the same time he didn’t really know what to do with them and he was pretty uninvolved with their day to day raising. Whereas when they became young adults he could talk with them. He had things to write to them about and he had money that they wanted and he had ways to control their lives in that way. So that was also interesting to watch the trajectory of his parenting over time.

And again, I wasn’t surprised but I was really deeply touched by his devotion to her and by his massive – I mean, he was shocked when she died. He was shocked at his own response. And he writes about his response and that was really interesting, that he writes some pieces for his kids about how he is doing. And he did this off and on throughout his life as if he were his own research subject. And he shocked himself “Oh my gosh, I have emotions and these are what they seem to be!”

Linus and Ava Helen at Deer Flat Ranch, 1977.

Linus and Ava Helen at Deer Flat Ranch, 1977.

PB: Is there something, a cache of materials or a specific document that you couldn’t find or that doesn’t exist that you really wish did exist or that you had found?

MC: Yes, several. I’m really sad that we do not have her love letters. I’m deeply sad about that because her personality kind of has to be reconstructed from the few letters that survived the mowing down of her correspondence by family members. And I so understand what they were doing, I so understand it, I just wish I had them. I wish we could have talked with Linda [Pauling Kamb]. She was so understandably tied up with Barclay’s recent death. And I was able to use the wonderful interviews that she did with Tom Hager, so I don’t feel like I was completely in the dark about her retrospective ideas about her family. To have those materials that Hager gathered was just really valuable. Yeah I wish I had more of her. We have so much of her personal correspondence as an adult and I just wish I had a little more.

…If I could go back in – I mean I’m very glad to have this project done and launched but if I could go back in, I did love casting it as a family history but I think in that sense I slighted some of the important points about women’s committee work that I could have made in the book. And I would be interested to see if reviewers find that a weak point. I think one of the strong points of the book is the history of the marriage and my attempt to connect that with some notion of 20th century marriages. But we’ll see about that too. But I think one weak point is not having done more with the importance of reinterpreting women’s committee work in the 20th century. So that’s a flaw.

PB: Well, the last question is what’s next up for you?

MC: I have no idea! I have like fourteen different interests. I really love the history of photography and I have a history of photography blog, so to beef that up is really, I have time for that now. And as I mentioned, I am really interested in what seems to be Lacanian in terms of this lack of research on college students lives in the 1920s and I’m really interested in that. I’m fascinated by the history of psychotherapy and haven’t yet written my grand book on that. So I think the short answer is I’m not sure. I need to decide really soon but I don’t know what I’m doing!

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

The Atomic Awakening of Ava Helen Pauling

Ava Helen Pauling, 1927.

[Ed Note: Over the next three weeks we will be publishing a paper, “The Atomic Awakening of Ava Helen Pauling,” that was written by Ingrid Ockert.  Ingrid is an Oregon State University alum and a long-time student worker in the Special Collections & Archives Research Center.  In the Spring of 2012 her paper was one of three selected by the OSU Libraries for its annual Library Undergraduate Research Awards.  An accomplished student, Ingrid will begin doctoral studies in the history of science at Princeton University this coming Fall.]

[Part 1 of 3]

Introduction

In 1926, a young Ava Helen Pauling arrived in Munich, Germany, ready for academic adventure. Her husband, Linus Pauling had received a Guggenheim fellowship to study atomic structure and quantum theories at the University of Munich. While Linus learned quantum mechanics from scientific giants like Sommerfeld and Schroedinger, Ava Helen explored German intellectual life. As she recalled later, it was a time of “great excitement and intellectual growth.” Ava Helen visited art museums and natural history collections. She attended scientific lectures in physics and chemistry. She edited Linus’ physics papers and chatted with brilliant scientists. And as Linus learned how to be a scientist, Ava Helen struggled to comprehend her new role as the wife of a scientist.

Ava Helen in Germany, 1927.

Early on their relationship, Linus and Ava had been united by their passion for chemistry. They collaborated on lab experiments, scientific calculations, and chemical models. But, since the birth of their son, Linus Jr., in 1925, Ava Helen had become increasingly separated from her husband and the world of science. On an even larger scale, Ava Helen wondered about her own role in the future of humankind. Her personal journal from her year abroad in Germany reveals her search for a clear identity. Ava Helen’s journal is filled with chemical notations and elemental symbols. It also includes reviews of anthropology and sociology texts, books that Ava Helen read to understand the roles of women in other cultures. Ava Helen even mentions herself as a Professor among her addresses of other professors at the University of Munich. But ultimately, Ava Helen reached a startlingly pessimistic conclusion on her role in society. “If a woman thinks honestly and clearly,” Ava Helen writes in her journal, “she must soon reach the conclusion that, no matter what life work she chooses, it could be better done by a man.” Ava Helen decided to let go of her own interests in science and to focus her energies on furthering Linus’ career. Upon their return to Cal Tech in 1928, Ava Helen settled into her new role as the professor’s wife, hostess, and caretaker. She was not alone in her conclusions. Many of her contemporaries, American women interested in science in the early 20th century, also decided to bow out of scientific communities. The American women who did try to pursue scientific education and careers found themselves pigeonholed as research assistants and secretaries.

But following the end of World War II, many Americans began to reconsider their previously accepted social roles. Many began to search for new identities. For Ava Helen Pauling, the end of the war provided the catalyst for her change in identity. She, along with thousands of other women, began to advocate for a respected role within American society. By the 1960s, these American women organized political groups and formed the foundations of the modern feminist movement. The end of World War II also prompted members of another major community to realize that they wanted to change their public image. During the early 20th century, physicists had isolated themselves from the American public. Following WWII, these atomic scientists began to envision a new role for themselves as socially responsible, public educators. They began a crusade to educate and reconnect with average Americans. Standing at the crossroads of the feminist and the atomic scientist movements, Ava Helen Pauling joined both groups. At the dawn of the America’s Atomic Age, Ava Helen Pauling recast herself as a feminist activist and an advocate for scientific education.

The Stirrings of a Social Activist

By the 1950s, twenty years after her trip to Germany, Ava Helen was no longer an eager student, but a harried housewife and a mother of four children. Her husband Linus, as she would sadly explain in interviews, needed to devote himself to science. So it was up to Ava Helen to take care of common household tasks. Ava spent her time thinking about what she called “trivial things,” like cleaning dishes, taking their children to the dentist, and paying bills. The Pauling family calendar from 1946 reveals Ava Helen’s busy life: during that year, she spent most of her time taking care of the four children, preparing Linus for business trips, and hosting visiting professors. By the 1950s, Linus had become a respected professor and had received a Nobel for his work in Chemistry. But Linus was well aware of Ava’s sacrifice. He later credited his scientific achievements to his wife, remarking, “I am not smarter than other [scientists]…[but Ava] handled the problems and stresses associated with family, leaving me free to devote all my time to working on the problems I wanted to work on.” While Ava Helen was pleased with her husband’s success, she was frustrated with her own progress in life. The pressure of managing an entire household weighed heavily on her.

Ava Helen at a meeting of women in Japan, 1955.

By the mid-fifties, Ava Helen Pauling began to look for her own direction in life. “Beginning in the forties and fifties,” Ava Helen remembered later in an interview, “I was at an age when I felt that my life could have been different.” The Pauling children were nearly grown, so Ava Helen finally had time to focus on her own interests. She realized that she wanted to be involved in something larger, something socially important. Ava Helen had grown up in a politically active family that encouraged intense debate and social activism. Her mother had been an active member of Oregon’s suffragette movement. Ava Helen was inspired to pursue a similar political course. As Ava Helen later confided in an interview, “I wanted to set the world on fire!”

Ava Helen continued her family’s legacy and became involved in several progressive organizations focused on social change. During World War II, Ava Helen had become an active member of the ACLU and protested the discrimination of Japanese Americans. She also became a member of Union Now, an organization that advocated world government. Ava Helen also grew increasingly aware of women’s issues around this time. “I [felt that] I needed to learn more about women…” she recalled years later, “I became interested to see what other women were doing.” In 1956, Ava Helen also joined another major women’s organization, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) was an organization started by Jane Addams in 1915. By the 1950s, WILPF’s goals included: “the education of youth for peace, measures to remove the economic causes of war; and total and universal disarmament.” In the 1960s, Ava Helen would become a founding member of WILPF’s two offshoots: Women Strike for Peace (WSP) and Women Act for Disarmament (WAD).

Fanning the Flames of Future Feminists

Women’s organizations like WILPF, WSP, and WAD served important functions for women’s rights in the years before the 1960s. As Susan M. Hartmann explains in her book From Margin to Mainstream, these groups “not only motivated and trained women for public office, they also operated as pressure groups. In the post-suffrage era, substantial numbers of women organized to shape public opinion, mobilize voters behind female defined issues, and exert direct pressure on legislatures and administrators.” The women who worked within women’s organizations in the 1940s and 1950s gained the skills necessary to become the feminist leaders of the 1960s.

Ava Helen at the WILPF national meeting, Washington D.C., June 1960.

Indeed, while working for WILPF, Ava Helen fully immersed herself in the feminist movement. She believed that world peace would be achieved by the total equality of men and women. Ava Helen had read some early works of feminism published in the 1940s, like Mary Inman’s In Women’s Defense. When Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, Ava Helen bought the book on the first printing run. She instantly connected to Friedan’s theme and publicly hailed the book as “excellent and provocative.” Like Friedan, Ava Helen believed that a woman did a disservice “to herself and to society and to her children by electing to remain in the home and devot[ing] her full energies to her home.” By working with organizations like WILPF, WSP, and WAD, Ava Helen felt that she was finally serving a larger role in her society.

Ava Helen honed her skills as a public speaker and activist while she organized WILPF events. In 1959, she had been elected the vice president of the American Chapter of WILPF. Ava Helen eagerly organized national conferences. She even helped coordinate the 1964 International Women’s Strike for Peace Rally at the Hague. In 1961, she and Linus worked together to organize a major conference between scientists, writers, and peace activists in Oslo, Norway. Ava Helen emerged from the shadow of her famous husband, as an important public figure.

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

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

[Part 4 of 5]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Story of 1960

[A look back 50 years in honor of the Pauling birthday anniversary on February 28th.]

Throughout most of 1959, Linus and Ava Helen Pauling were actively engaged in several peace-related activities, including a nuclear test ban treaty being deliberated in Geneva. Certain developments preceding the New Year made it clear, however, that a full nuclear test ban treaty (atmosphere, water and underground) was unlikely to be negotiated. Richard Lippman, a good friend and ally of Pauling, passed away suddenly around the same time. Quite understandably, the two events had a depressive effect on Pauling. When he and Ava Helen visited their Big Sur ranch the following January in 1960, Pauling decided to go for a walk early one Saturday morning.

After following a deer trail for some time, Pauling became lost and then stuck on a cliff under a large rock formation. He found himself surrounded by slippery blue shale, and the unstable rocks shifted towards the cliff edge every time he tried to move. Ava Helen contacted the Forrest Service in the evening when her husband failed to come back or return her shouts. Pauling heard searchers at one point in the evening, but his voice wouldn’t carry up to the would-be rescuers above him. That night he slept under a map that he had with him, and tried to keep warm in the freezing fog.

He was found the next morning in “high spirits,” but was deeply shaken by the ordeal. He attempted to go back to work the following Monday, but was forced to return home after a short time in his office, fully conscious but unable to speak. He had been terrified by his night on the cliff, and it seems that after years of internalization, the unsettling experience was forcing him to confront many repressed emotions. His physician diagnosed Pauling’s condition as shock, and ordered him to rest for a few days. During the ensuing weeks of recovery, he was more emotionally vulnerable than his family had ever seen him.

Meanwhile, after negotiations had stalled in Geneva, the international moratorium on nuclear testing expired at the end of 1959. The expiration catalyzed a strong re-emergence of proponents for renewed nuclear bomb testing, and the force of the new movement compelled Pauling and his wife back into the nuclear test-ban arena. The Paulings attended several protests and in June Linus gave a speech to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Afterwards he was handed several fliers, newspaper clippings and an array of other papers which he stuffed into his pockets while answering questions. Back at his hotel room that night, he was sorting through everything when he noticed a subpoena that had been handed to him during the post-speech discourse. It stated that he was to appear before an executive session of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee two days from then, on Monday, June 20.

Subpeona issued to Linus Pauling by the Internal Security Subcommittee of the United States Senate. June 20, 1960.

Pauling immediately called Abraham Lincoln Wirin, a lawyer who had assisted him with a number of legal disputes, to discuss his options in addressing the subpoena. The day before Pauling was to appear before the subcommittee, he held a press conference, and successfully lobbied to have the first executive session opened to the public. After being sworn in, it became clear why Pauling had been summoned. Several years prior, he had submitted a nuclear test ban petition to the UN with a substantial number of signatures. The petition was initially an appeal by American scientists but was later circulated in many other countries, several of them governed by Communist parties, for an expanded petition response. The subcommittee wanted to know how he’d done it, and if he utilized the help of any communist organizations. Pauling politely answered every question, but when it came to divulging the names of those who had helped to collect more than one signature, he became openly concerned. After some questioning and a short recess, Pauling stood and said:

The circulation of petitions is an important part of our democratic process. If it is abolished or inhibited, it would be a step toward a police state. No matter what assurances the subcommittee might give me concerning the use of names, I am convinced the names would be used for reprisals against these enthusiastic, idealistic, high-minded workers for peace.

The acting chairman, Senator Thomas Dodd, gave Pauling until August 9 to come up with a list of names. Wirin succeeded in getting the deadline postponed to October 11, and Linus and Ava Helen  continued to travel and deliver speeches. Pauling received a great deal of support from many academics, members of the press and fellow Nobel Prize winners as well as a great number of constituents who wrote letters of protest to Dodd and other senators. When asked to relinquish the requested names at the October hearing, Pauling refused. He was not given a contempt citation, as was somewhat expected, but instead subjected to a loyalty inquiry. After five hours of questioning related to his presumed affiliation with the Communist party and party members, Pauling was allowed to leave.

As the Dodd confrontation was entering its final stages, Pauling remained on the offensive. Though it appeared to most that he had won, Pauling took the matter very personally. He continued to attack Dodd publicly and began campaigning for the abolition of investigatory committees, even mounting several libel suits against newspapers and organizations that had released material reflecting allegations and positions taken by the SISS. Pauling came into conflict with past associates and organizations, and became a more open critic of American society generally. He had resigned his chairmanship at Caltech several years before to focus more of his time on personal pursuits, and his political crusades grew more public after years of partial restraint. He was still supported by an array of old associates, though many became concerned with Pauling’s new disposition.

Linus Pauling speaking at a peace march in MacArthur Park, Los Angeles, California. 1960. Photo by Robert Carl Cohen.

Linus Pauling’s rescue from a cliff and his confrontation with the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee – events which were both widely publicized and of enormous import to Pauling’s life – overshadowed most of his other activities in 1960. He made frequent appearances in all forms of media throughout the year, and gave a considerable number of speeches.  He remained very active in the nuclear test ban arena, and even spoke to ambassadors from the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union during a July visit to Geneva.

Though he came out relatively unscathed from his activities, the SISS confrontation soured Pauling in a way, and further radicalized his positions. For the time being however, he remained popular within the establishment. The following year he was among the American scientists honored by Time magazine as “Men of the Year,” received the title of Humanist of the Year from the American Humanist Society, and would participate in a number of high-profile conferences and protests. But despite this series of mostly positive outcomes, 1960 was a difficult year that significantly influenced the direction of Pauling’s ever evolving demeanor.

For more on Pauling’s peace work, see the website Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement: A Documentary History.