Among featured events last April at the 2017 annual convention of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), celebrating the society's 100th anniversary, was the women's forum, "Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology: 100 years" sponsored by PROWESS (PROfessional Women in Earth ScienceS); a talk by Robbie Rice Gries*, first woman AAPG President (2001-02), in the History of Petroleum Geology symposium; and a signing event for Gries' book, Anomalies: Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology, 1917-2017.
|Robbie Rice Gries signing copies of her book, Anomalies, at the AAPG Exhibit booth during Geological Society of America annual meeting, October 2017 (photo by AAPG on Twitter)|
|My drawing of Globigerina from a lab exercise in graduate carbonate petrology class, Southern Illinois University, 1987|
The micropaleontologists, Esther Richards Applin (Rio Bravo Oil), Alva Ellisor (Humble), and Hedwig Kniker (The Texas Company) worked for different oil companies, but shared the same apartment in Houston. Their employers were part of a four-company paleontological consortium originally established by Rio Bravo Oil with the consortium lab headquartered at Rio Bravo. However, other companies of the consortium quickly set up their own labs. The women became pioneers in using microfossils for stratigraphic correlation. They were originally hired to use macrofossils, mollusks primarily, to unravel the stratigraphy of the US Gulf coast. But, they determined that the destruction or only partial recovery of mollusks in well cuttings during drilling was a hindrance. Microfossils, however, provided a solution, and they found foraminifera to be not as unvaried through geologic time as previously believed. Their seminal presentation on Gulf Coast stratigraphic correlation using microfossils was in December 1921 at the 13th annual Paleontological Society meeting, held during the Geological Society of America (GSA) annual meeting in Amherst, Massachusetts. The paper was single-authored by E.T. Dumble of Rio Bravo Oil, founder of the original 4-company paleontology consortium, but was read by Esther Richards, the first consortium paleontologist (she married geologist Applin in 1923).
Richards-Applin also read the preceding paper by eminent foraminiferal paleontologist, J. A. Cushman, who stood in the back of the room (as recounted by Richards-Applin in Todd, 1985**). Cushman was also coming to the same conclusions as Applin, Ellisor, and Kniker, although it is difficult to determine this from the short entry in the meeting proceedings pictured below. At the end of Richards’ presentation of the Dumble paper, J. J. Galloway of Columbia University condescendingly responded with convictions of the day, both in terms of foram paleontology and women scientists, “Gentlemen, here is this chit of a girl right out of college, telling us that we can use foraminifera to determine the age of formation. Gentlemen, you know it can’t be done.” (Gries, AAPG Explorer, Oct. 2017). Cushman remained silent, despite this challenge (Todd, 1985). Knowing Galloway’s retort, it is interesting to note that while complete abstracts or synopses of talks by other speakers are included in the GSA Bulletin (volume 33), which covered the proceedings of the meeting, the entries pictured below for the two Cushman/Dumble/Richards-Applin talks are frustratingly uninformative and short.
|Entire entry for Cushman and Dumble papers, both read by Esther Richards, Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, vol. 33, "Proceedings of the 13th Annual Meeting of the Paleontological Society" p. 206-207|
However, Gries writes that a year later Galloway had changed his mind, and, within 3 years, there were “oil industry jobs for 300 micropaleontologists and . . . micropaleontology courses in 31 geology departments.” Gries reminds us that at this time, the 1920’s, the only subsurface information available in oil exploration was well cuttings. Ruth Todd, herself a "leading figure in the field of foraminiferal research”, did give Richards, Kniker and Ellisor credit for “being among the first” to use forams in oil exploration, in her 1985 biography of Cushman. However, in some histories of the development of micropaleontology, the three pioneering industry micropaleontologists became “Hidden Figures”, with the role of male practitioners highlighted instead (Gries, AAPG Explorer).
Including the selections on Richards-Applin, Kniker and Ellisor, Gries' book, Anomalies, highlights ~140 women in the earth science field of petroleum geology, covering the 100 years (1917-2017) of AAPG's existence and the early entrée of women geologists into the petroleum industry. The format is a series of biographies and autobiographical statements, ranging in length from half a page to several pages each. Although focusing on women in the petroleum industry, the book is relevant to the career journey, access, and hurdles of professional women and scientists through the 20th century and into the 21st. One hundred of these women were also highlighted on a display wall during both the 2017 AAPG annual meeting and the October annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (Gries is also GSA President-elect, June 2017-18; GSA President, June 2018-19).
|Wall of AAPG trail-blazing women at GSA 2017 annual meeting|
The biographies are essentially chronological, organized by chapters, with sub-sections, that highlight evolving career challenges through the decades, such as: "1917-1918: The First Female Employees in Petroleum During WWI", . . . "1920s to 1940s: The Micropaleontology Era", . . . "Early Affirmative Action, Diversity, and the Oil Business".
Some may think that to title chapters "Women Who Married and Stayed in Industry After the War [World War II]" and "Women Who Married and Had to Quit: Some Became Consultants or Joined A Geologic Survey", is retro, old-fashioned, un-feminist, or not career-centric, but it directly addresses reality. Whether the Baby Boomer generation of me and Gries' with the limited daycare choices of the early 1970's and little to no paid family leave, or the Millennial generation of my daughter which has more family-friendly options for balancing career with family needs, career decisions can be challenging whether one is in a relationship, with or without children, or is a single-parent.
|Anomalies partial Table of Contents and sample biographical entries|
Although Anomalies is 390 pages of text, with, as mentioned earlier, ~140 biographies, this is not onerous since the biographies can be read out-of-order and sporadically: great for an empowering coffee table addition, or a guilt-free break at work.
*Robbie Rice Gries
President, Priority Oil & Gas
AAPG President, 2001-02 (first woman to hold that position)
Treasurer, Geological Society of America (2006-09)
Vice President/President-Elect, GSA (2017-19)
** p. 261 in Todd, Ruth, 1985, Joseph A. Cushman and the study of Foraminifera, Geological Society of America Special Centennial volume 1, p. 257-271. https://paleobiology.si.edu/cushman/biographies/1985-Ruth-Todd-chapter-GSA-Volume.pdf
Links to other online sources in or relevant to this blog post:
https://explorer.aapg.org/issue/articleid/36988/october-2017 (Three Women, One Breakthrough; non-members of AAPG can download whole issue through link at bottom of webpage)
(Memorial to Cushman, with contributions from Esther Richards Applin)