Alva Ellisor (1892-1964)

Alva Ellisor ca. 1946

Alva Ellisor ca. 1946

Alva Ellisor was a pioneer in commercial geology for the oil industry, and she broke new ground with her work on Foraminifera on the American Gulf Coast.  Her discoveries in correlating surface sections and sections found in wells, which included describing and naming many foraminiferal index fossils, led to locating valuable new oil fields. Interestingly, the initial important paper she published on this work was written together with two other female paleontologists, Esther Applin and Hedwig Kniker. Ellisor was the first research stratigrapher and paleontologist for the Humble Oil and Refining Company, which was later acquired by Standard Oil and then merged to form Exxon.

Ellisor was the valedictorian of her class at Ball High School in Galveston, Texas.  In 1915 she graduated with high honors in geology from the University of Texas, and by 1918 she had published the first of many research papers. Many of the fossils she discovered and described in that first paper were included in a standard reference book, Handbook of Texas Cretaceous Fossils by W.S. Adkins (1928). She was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America in 1929, and belonged to numerous professional societies.

In 1962 L.T. Barrow, a geologist and Board Chair of the Humble Company, presented Ellisor with the Distinguished Geology Alumni Award from the University of Texas. In his address he discussed some of the hardships that she, Applin, and Kniker faced early in their careers:  “Some warned the three young ladies they were making a terrible mistake in relying on microfossils.  Besides the necessity of proving their work to their own companies, it became desirable to convince the rest of the geologic profession.  Another difficulty Miss Ellisor faced…was that she had to work many well samples as ‘unknown’ — not being given the name and location of the wells. This was not just to test her during the proving stage, but some Humble geologists wanted to be certain the determinations were based entirely on what was found in the samples, and not by any information as to what the age should be.”