Ava Helen Pauling


Anitra Carr, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor (Senior Research)
Linus Pauling Institute

Ava Helen Miller was born in rural Oregon near Oregon City on December 24, 1903. After high school, she attended Oregon Agricultural College, now Oregon State University. She met Linus Pauling in her freshman chemistry class, where he was a senior teaching assistant, and they married at the end of her sophomore year in 1923. They then moved to Pasadena where Linus earned his doctorate and taught at the California Institute of Technology. Ava Helen later said that “There was no place and not enough money for me to go on to college.”

Ava Helen was both progressive and outspoken on many issues, and yet somewhat old-fashioned in other respects. Since Linus Pauling was totally dedicated to his scientific work, Ava Helen took on the responsibilities of home and children, of which they had four, three boys and one girl. She was once quoted in an interview as saying “My life has been largely devoted to my husband and children, but I have had enough of my own interests that I haven’t just bemoaned my fate.”

Those interests included human rights and peace. During World War II she worked with the American Civil Liberties Union defending the rights of Japanese-Americans and later received the Ralph Atkinson Award from the organization. After the war she was a member of the Women’s International Strike for Peace and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, receiving the Janice Holland Award from the former. She also helped organize the massive “Women’s Peace March” in Europe and spoke on peace and human rights in 39 foreign countries.

Ava Helen had an important influence on the politics of Linus Pauling. In the 1950s and 1960s she and her husband worked, both together and independently, for nuclear disarmament, to check the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to prevent the atmospheric testing of atomic bombs. In 1961 they arranged a symposium on nuclear arms control that involved scientists from around the world. Two years later her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, his second unshared Nobel Prize. However, Linus Pauling agreed with the many people who thought that Ava Helen should have been a co-winner because of her equally important role. He was quoted as saying “In the fight for peace and against oppression, she has been my constant and courageous companion and coworker.” He also said that he worked so hard for peace in order to keep his wife’s respect.

While Linus Pauling was an internationally renowned scientist, Ava Helen expressed opinions on science as well. In a lecture on “Why do we have two sexes—man and woman?” Ava Helen said, “I believe woman to have been the first scientist. She must in her cave have been aware of the effect of temperature, water and the storage of food—the gathering of edible grains and fruits must have been her job as the warriors were off to battle.” In a letter written in 1980, Ava Helen recalled her remarks at an international congress in Yugoslavia in 1957 on the nature of the hydrogen bond. At the congress she said, “The only bond more important than the hydrogen bond is the human bond.”

Linus Pauling was devastated by his wife’s illness and eventual death from stomach cancer. He did all he could to try and save her life, including treating her with high doses of vitamin C, which he later used for his own cancer. Both Linus and Ava had been taking high doses of vitamin C (about 3 grams or more daily) for many years because they found that they had greater energy, an increased sense of well-being, and fewer colds. Ava Helen Pauling died in her home in December 1981 after a five-year battle with her illness.

In 1982 Oregon State University initiated the “Ava Helen Pauling Lectureship for World Peace”, and Linus Pauling delivered the first lecture. Since 1986 Oregon State University’s Valley Library has been host to the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, an extensive collection of information from two incredible lives. In 1996 the Linus Pauling Institute was established at Oregon State University and recently created an endowed position, the Ava Helen Pauling Chair, in honor of Linus Pauling’s wife of nearly 60 years.

Last updated May, 2001

Honoring a Scientific Giant with Nutritional Research Toward Longer, Better Lives

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