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Ava Pauling's Vision of Peace

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Ava Pauling's Vision of Peace

On Dec. 24, 1903, a baby girl named Ava was born. An intelligent and compassionate girl, she would grow up to be a crusader for peace and human rights.

Much of her activism was done in conjunction with her husband, scientist Linus Pauling. A chemist during a time when many of the greatest minds in the United States were devoted to creating the atomic bomb, Linus declined an invitation to work on the Manhattan Project. It’s just one of many examples of the Paulings’ commitment to peace.

Ava Pauling may have influenced her husband’s decision not to work on the bomb – she certainly steered him toward the work he did for peace. In his own words, “I would never have become involved in anything other than chemistry had it not been for my wife.” And Ava did much more than influence her husband; she worked her entire life to end war, advance human rights, preserve the environment, and more.

On her birthday, we look at seven ways Ava Pauling worked to make the world a more peaceful place.

1. An end to nuclear proliferation. Most prominent of Ava Pauling’s causes was nuclear disarmament. She gave speeches and organized rallies across the U.S. and Europe, hoping to educate the public about the dangers of nuclear war and urge others to protest the creation and testing of more nuclear weapons. Linus and Ava worked together on a petition calling for an end to nuclear-weapons tests, presenting it to the United Nations with the signatures of more than 11,000 scientists. This strong argument helped pave the way for the Partial Test Ban Treaty, signed in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, which prohibited all above-ground testing of nuclear weapons. Linus Pauling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in the same year, and he maintained that Ava should have shared the honor with him: “In the fight for peace and against oppression, she has been my constant and courageous companion and coworker.”

Ava and Linus Pauling (Wikimedia Commons)2. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Founded in 1915 in the midst of World War I, the WILPF’s work toward peace and against oppression was still desperately needed when Ava Pauling joined after World War II. As a three-time vice president of WILPF, Pauling was in good company: other members have included founders Jane Addams and Jeannette Rankin, Nobel Peace Prize winner Alva Myrdal, civil rights leader Coretta Scott King, and many other notable women. The organization is still strong today, working with the United Nations and world governments to promote peace and justice.

3. Women Strike for Peace. WSP was founded in 1961 in response to nuclear proliferation. Their early goal “End the arms race, not the human race” morphed into a plea for an end to the Vietnam War. At a time when anti-war marches and rallies weren’t common in the U.S., these woman – most of them respectable, middle-class wives and mothers – took to the streets in protest and began to change the face of the peace movement. Ava Pauling was a member and helped organize anti-war activities, including the huge “Women’s Peace March” in Europe.

4. Anti-internment. After the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese army in 1941, the U.S., fearing espionage and sabotage, sequestered more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent – U.S. citizens and residents – in internment camps. Anti-Japanese sentiments raged across the country, with most citizens agreeing with the decision to relocate the Japanese, and many wishing we would deport them altogether. The Paulings, horrified by the internment decision, worked to raise awareness about the issue. They were criticized by many for what was perceived as pro-Japanese sentiment, but they didn’t back down. They continued to fight for the rights of the interned Japanese, even providing employment to a Japanese man after he was released from the camp at a time when many others were reluctant to do so.

5. American Civil Liberties Union. Ava Pauling’s anger over the Japanese interment camps led her to join the ACLU. The renowned human rights organization founded after World War I, had by World War II a firm footing from which to vehemently oppose Japanese internment.

6. McCarthy-era witch hunts. Unfortunately, being a peace activist doesn’t always bring you praise and adulation. Sometimes it just makes the government suspicious of you. As a result of the Paulings’ anti-war campaigning, Linus came under fire of the Senate Internal Security Committee, which investigated suspected subversive activity during the era when Joseph McCarthy held sway over the Senate. Ava strongly opposed the SISS and the McCarthy era’s attacks on perceived Communist sympathizers, and she worked to raise awareness of their unconstitutionality.

7. Wilderness conservation. Ava Pauling knew that peace and justice didn’t just apply to humans. A longtime California resident, she was active in the effort to preserve the state’s coastal and wilderness areas. As a prominent member of the Sempervirens Fund, she worked to preserve the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. She also worked toward conservation of the Anza-Borrego Desert of southern California through the Desert Protective Council.

Ava Pauling died Dec. 7, 1981, but her work toward peace endures. Her alma mater, Oregon State University, maintains the Pauling Peace Lectureship in her memory. The organizations she worked with, like the WILFP and the ACLU, are still strong and still work toward peace and justice. And all over the world, individuals like Ava Pauling strive for peace on Earth.