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1 Introduction Ava Helen Pauling is that elusive figure in historical memory, the wife of a celebrity. Only her last name is still recognized. Yet by the end of her life she had an address book that embraced the world and she could dash off a letter to any number of political leaders, academics, peace activists, writers, and artists, and expect the favor of a reply. Proud to be Linus Pauling’s wife, lover, consultant, housekeeper, dietician, and co-parent, she also parlayed her intimacy with him into the status of change agent. She was the one who persuaded Linus that it wasn’t enough to do brilliant chemistry if the world was tumbling toward annihilation. She coached one of the twentieth century’s most gifted science teachers into teaching citizens about the linkages between atomic weaponry, health, and social justice. ButAva Helen Pauling had her own career as an activist first for civil rights and civil liberties, and then against nuclear testing, and finally for peace, feminism, and responsible stewardship of the environment. In the 1940s Ava Helen1 devoted time to the Los Angeles American Civil Liberties Union. In the 1950s she became a leader of the venerable Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. In 1961 she joined the brand new Women Strike for Peace. She spoke; she marched; she traveled both with Linus and by herself. She and Linus sponsored, circulated, and delivered petitions against nuclear testing, gathering thousands of signatures each time. They organized an international conference of scientists in Oslo in 1961 to oppose nuclear testing and nuclear proliferation. In 1963, after the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed a partial nuclear test ban treaty, Linus Pauling won the Nobel Peace Prize for 1962. Many believed Pauling was a dangerous radical who should not be encouraged. Many others, who knew the couple, believed that Ava Helen should have been the co-recipient. Ava Helen made international headlines in May 1964 after she was turned back at the Netherlands border, as Dutch officials tried and failed to block the Women Strike for Peace from staging a silent march outside the NATO ministerial conference.2 (She persisted and Dutch officials, embarrassed, Ava Helen Pauling 2 finally relented.) She loved the new organization; it suited her democratic, inclusive, direct, and slightly mischievous style. About the same time, and before the founding of the National Organization for Women in 1966, she began speaking out on women’s issues, and the dilemmas of well-educated women choosing early marriage over professional careers—as she had done in 1923. As she elaborated her own set of ideals and colleagues,Ava Helen Pauling perfected a style of activism that wove together the strands of her multiple networks. Initially her political personality was polite, cautious, and group oriented, though she did not shy away from what she saw as a necessary confrontation. After their Pasadena garage was vandalized in 1945 to intimidate the Paulings into firing their Japanese American gardener, the sheriff warned her that others who had opposed the internment of Japanese Americans had suffered even worse attacks. “Sheriff,” she asked him in her sweet voice, “are you threatening me, or are you protecting me?”3 When I first saw Ava Helen Miller, in a chemistry class in 1922, I was impressed not so much by her attractive appearance as by her obvious intelligence and sprightly manner. As the decades have gone by I have continued to be grateful to the gods of chance that my good judgment or good luck led to my having such a brilliant, thoughtful, interesting, conscientious, ethical, reliable, consistent, and exciting companion for fifty-seven years—and I hope for many more to come. —Linus Pauling to Beatrice Rowland, 17 May 1980 Though Ava Helen Pauling’s own activist career is well worth narrating, it is a richer story when told as the saga of the partnership—romantic, marital, and political—of two strong spirits who survived not only the sexual and parenting tensions of their early adulthood, but also the threat of destructive competition and cross-cutting pressures in middle age. In an interview in the early sixties, Ava Helen Pauling remarked that many people had asked if she and Linus ever quarreled. “Well, of course we do,” she replied to these phantom questioners. “We have the very hottest of arguments at times. To live with someone with whom one always agreed would be unbearable. Surely one would have to be a nincompoop and...


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Subject Headings

  • Pauling, Ava Helen.
  • Pauling, Linus, 1901-1994 -- Marriage.
  • Women political activists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Political activists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Pacifists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Social justice -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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