Valentine’s Day event focuses on romance between Ava Helen and Linus Pauling

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling early in their courtship (photo courtesy OSU Special Collections)

One of Oregon State University’s most enduring stories of romance is that of the life-long love between Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling and his wife, Ava Helen, who met while Pauling was teaching at OSU.

The story of their courtship, marriage and the peace and justice work that helped propel them into the international spotlight has been the subject of previous writers. But OSU researcher Mina Carson is now completing a book focused on the life of Ava Helen that will illuminate readers on the complexity of the woman not behind, but at the side of, Linus Pauling.

Carson, an associate professor of history, will discuss some of the richer aspects of the Pauling love story on Valentine’s Day (Tuesday, Feb. 14) when the OSU Women’s Network (OWN) presents “Now that’s chemistry! The love story of Ava Helen and Linus Pauling.” Carson’s presentation begins at noon in the Linus Pauling Science Center Room 402; it is free and open to the public.

What fascinates Carson about the relationship is that despite seeming to be a traditional early-20th century marriage, it was also a partnership built on mutual respect and support.

“She doesn’t have to shuck off a traditional oppressive married life,” Carson said. “They are romantic partners from the get-go and they are all the way through. What she wants, Linus pretty much lets her have. He’s very traditional in the sense that he goes to the work in the daytime and comes back for dinner. But he loves her and he wants to let her do and be anything that she wants.”

Carson got involved in the project when she learned the OSU Press was looking for an author to work on a biography of Ava Helen. She was aware of some of Ava Helen’s work in the area of peace and social justice, but delving further into the lives of the Paulings opened her eyes to a complex woman who was both a dedicated mother and wife, as well as, in her later years, an outspoken feminist and activist.

“She wanted to have young women not have to choose between marriage and their education,” Carson said. “She wanted women to look at what they were doing when they dropped out of college.”

Using the treasure trove of correspondence and other documents in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers in OSU Special Collections, as well collections at Swarthmore College and Radcliffe, Carson was able to unearth a rich portrait of Ava Helen as both an adoring spouse and a helpmate of Linus, as well as a rapidly evolving sense, later in their marriage, that women must do more than just be wives.

But although she eventually regretted not completing her college degree, Ava Helen said until the end that she would not change her life with Pauling for a different path.

Carson’s Valentine’s Day talk will focus more on the romantic side of the Pauling relationship, which she describes as rich with romantic chemistry as well as a mutual admiration for each other as people and intellectuals.

“Their relationship really is fascinating,” Carson said. “It is so different in some ways from many marital relationships that we know anything about and yet is also so traditional in that she’s really raising the kids and keeping the house. And yet the degree to which they love each other and continue to be passionate about each other is determinative for both of them, and their life direction.”

Carson’s book will be published by OSU Press in 2013.

The OSU Women’s Network (OWN) is open to faculty and staff associated with the university. To find out more, contact Mirabelle Fernandes Paul at 541-737-1330. OWN events are open to all. OSU Women’s Network is a dues paying organization that relies on members’ support to carry out their work. To become a paying member, write a check of $20 (or any amount preferable) to ‘OSU Women’s Network’ and mail to Elizabeth Thomas, 102 Waldo Hall.

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