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Esther Applin

Esther Applin
Esther Applin 1944.jpg
Esther Richards Applin, 1944
Esther Richards

(1895-11-24)November 24, 1895
DiedJuly 7, 1972(1972-07-07) (aged 76)
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley
Known forUse of microfossils in oil exploration in the Gulf Coast
Spouse(s)Paul Applin
ChildrenLouise (daughter) Paul Jr. (son)
  • Gary Richards (father)
  • Jennie DeVore (mother)

Esther Applin (November 24, 1895 – July 23, 1972) was an American geologist and paleontologist. Applin completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1919 from the University of California, Berkeley. Later, she completed a Master's degree which was focused on microfossils. She was a leading figure in the use of microfossils to determine the age of rock formation for use in oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico region. Applin's discoveries were crucial to successful drilling operations across the entire oil industry. Additionally, her contribution to geology, more specifically in the study of micropaleontology, put women geologists on the map, and was pivotal in making them as respected as men in the geological field of science.[1]

Early life and education

Applin was born as Esther Richards on November 24, 1895, in Newark, Ohio, to Gary Richards, a civil engineer with the United States Army, and Jennie DeVore. Because of her father's work, she lived in various cities in Ohio, then later lived in Fort Des Moines, Iowa, and eventually moved to San Francisco at the age of 12.[2] Richards lived on Alcatraz Island with her family from 1907 until 1920,[2] while her father worked on the construction of Alcatraz Prison. From Alcatraz Island, she traveled to school (high school and later University) via the ferry.[2]

Richards attended the University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1919 with an honors degree in paleontology, geology, and physiography.[2][3] In 1920, she left California and moved to Houston to work for the Rio Bravo Oil company. While at Berkeley, Richards focused her studies on larger fossils; however, this theoretical education proved to be of little value for underground drilling because remnants of the fossils in drill cuttings were too small to effectively identify.[3] She determined that the microfossils found in the drill cuttings could be useful in the correlation of underground rock formations. She then returned to California and studied micropaleontology, earning her Master's degree.[3]

In 1923, Richards married Paul Applin, who was also a geologist.[4] She had two children: a daughter, Louise (born in 1926), and a son, Paul Jr. (born in 1927).[2]

Career and achievements

In 1921, Applin presented a paper in Amherst, Massachusetts, stating her theory that microfossils could be used in oil exploration, specifically the dating of the rock formations in the Gulf of Mexico region. Her theory was ridiculed by geologists with more experience[2] and disputed by professor J.J. Galloway of the University of Texas at Austin. Galloway was quoted saying "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 that it can't be done."[4][1] In 1925, Applin co-authored a paper with Alva Ellisor and Hedwig Kniker,[2] which reported her findings that oil-bearing rock formations in the Gulf Coast region could in fact be dated using microfossils.[5] Applin remained with Rio Bravo until 1927, continuing to lead the use of micropaleontology in the oil industry.[4] Applin was able to have a successful career with the Rio Bravo Oil Company due to the fact her micropaleontology studies provided index fossils to the company which was vying for the best oil bearing stratigraphic layers.[1] The matching of micro index fossils between stratigraphic layers in not only the Gulf Coast region, but other regions as well, was the main form of oil exploration for oil companies. Applin's discoveries proved to be essential and irreplaceable to drilling operations, up until the use of electric logs became more feasible.[1] Applin contributed a lasting impact on both women previously in, and soon entering, the relatively newer field of geology. Applin's discoveries transformed geology into a field of study that women could feel much more open in—much more than other, more established fields.[1]

After her stint working for Rio Bravo Oil that lasted from 1920-1927, Applin was sought after to work as a consultant to various other oil companies and did so until 1944.[1] It was then, in 1944, that Applin and her family moved to Tallahassee, Florida[2] where she worked alongside her husband at the United States Geological Survey, with the task of linking the oil fields of East Texas, across the southeaster United States, and into Florida, using micropaleontology and other methods.[6]

In 1960, Applin received a well-earned plaque from the Gulf Association of Geological Studies, in recognition of her accomplishments and contributions to the field.


Following the "oil boom" decline, Applin and her family moved to Jackson, Mississippi. From there, Applin still wrote papers on stratigraphy, structure of southeastern states, and foraminifera. In 1962, she retired from the Geological Survey, but following retirement, she still continued to do research and publish works.[2]


  • Applin, Esther. "A Microfauna From the Coker Formation, Alabama" (PDF). Geological Survey Bulletin. United States Geological Survey (1160-D).
  • Applin, Esther. "A Biofacies of Woodbine Age in Southeastern Gulf Coast Region" (PDF). United States Geological Survey. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Applin, Paul Livingston; Applin, Esther (1965). "The Comanche Series and associated rocks in the subsurface in central and south Florida" (PDF). United States Geological Survey. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Applin, Paul Livingston; Applin, Esther (1947). "Regional subsurface stratigraphy, structure, and correlation of middle and early Upper Cretaceous rocks in Alabama, Georgia, and north Florida". US Geological Survey Publication.
  • Maher, John Charles; Applin, Esther R (1971). "Geologic framework and petroleum potential of the Atlantic Coastal Plain and continental shelf". United States Geological Survey. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Applin, Paul Livingston; Applin, Esther (1953). "The cored section in George Vasen's Fee well 1, Stone County, Mississippi". United States Geological Survey. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Applin, Paul L.; Applin, Esther R. (1953). "The Cored Section in George Vasen's Fee Well 1 Stone County, Mississippi" (PDF). United States Geological Survey. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)


  1. ^ a b c d e f Kass-Simon, Gabriele; Farnes, Patricia; Nash, Deborah (1993). Women of Science: Righting the Record. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253208130.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ogilvie, Marilyn; Harvey, Joy, eds. (2000). The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science. 1. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 46–47.
  3. ^ a b c "Memorial: Esther Richards Applin (1895-1972)". 57 (3). 1973. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ a b c "Memorials". American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin: 596. March 1973.
  5. ^ Richards Applin, Esther; Ellisor, Alva E.; Kniker, Hedwig T. (1925). "Subsurface Stratigraphy of the Coastal Plain of Texas and Louisiana". American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin. 9 (1): 79–122.
  6. ^ Belt, Walter. E Jr. (June 1998). "Mississippi Experiences of Walter Belt" (PDF). Mississippi Geology. 19 (2): 22. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  7. ^ Berdan, Jean M. "". Retrieved 12 October 2017. External link in |title= (help)

Further reading

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