ESTHER APPLIN (1895-1972)

Courtesy of BEG and AAPG

Courtesy of BEG and AAPG

Esther Richards Applin was a pioneer of applied paleontology in the early 1900s, while also supporting her geologist husband Paul Applin and raising their two children. Esther Richards was born in Newark, Ohio in 1895. Her father was a civil engineer and moved his family to California, where he was directing the construction of Alcatraz Prison. From 1907 to 1920, she lived on the island with her family and took the ferry to school every day. In 1919 she graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with honors in paleontology, and one year later completed her master’s degree.

A 1926 article in the Los Angeles Times (click to read)

Esther began her paleontological career in Houston, Texas at the Rio Bravo Oil Company’s paleontological lab. Her job was to examine microfossils, especially the Foraminifera, that were collected in drill holes to determine the age of the rock into which the company was drilling. This would help the company find the location of oil deposits. Esther, along with paleontologists Alva Ellisor and Hedwig Kniker, presented a paper about this innovative procedure at a 1921 meeting of the Paleontological Society, a national scientific organization. Some brushed off the concept as nonsense, but within a year nearly every leading fuel company was using their method to find oil.

"Gentlemen, here is this chit of a girl, right out of college, telling us that we can use Foraminifera to determine the age of a formation. Gentlemen, you know that it can’t be done."
Professor J.J. Galloway, 1921, in response to Applin’s presentation

In 1923, Esther met Paul Applin, a young geologist, in Houston. They married and as a couple, worked together. Even while raising two children, Esther consulted with oil companies and eventually accepted a position as assistant professor of geology at the University of Texas at Austin in 1942. In 1944 the Applins moved to Florida, where Esther continued to research and publish papers on the stratigraphy of the Southeastern United States for the US Geological Survey.