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A WASP in Geology: Elizabeth A. Watson (1915-2000)


The early 20th century is not known to have an excess of either female geoscientists or female aviators. In comes a remarkable woman embodying both, one Elizabeth A. Watson. Elizabeth is one of many spectacular pioneering women geologists from the 20th century. The AAPG PROfessional Women in Earth ScienceS (PROWESS) committee is uncovering more enigmas about the lives of these pioneering women and the impact they made to the petroleum industry. Elizabeth Watson obtained both her B.S. and M.S. Degrees in Geology from Stanford University, publishing a thesis titled “Stratigraphic Occurrences of Discocyclina in the Eocene of California.” In this study, she identified and described, for the first time a new species she named Discocyclina (Pseudophragmina) clarki (Cushman), new variety. Elizabeth correlated the Martinez Formation with several important Eocene sections to determine the relative age of the discocycline-bearing beds. She followed up on this paper with another publication titled “Age of the Martinez Formation of Pacheco Syncline, Contra Costa County, California.” This work was used and cited in understanding the Eocene stratigraphy of the Chico Martinez Creek Area, located in the foothills of the Temblor Range of the San Joaquin basin. This is an important reference section for the Miocene Monterey Formation due to its great thickness (>6,000 feet) and close proximity to major oil fields. In 1940, as WWII was amplifying, there was a growing demand for male combat pilots and warplanes, leaving the Air Transport Command (ATC) stretched to fill a shortage of experienced pilots to ferry planes from factories to points of embarkation. As a result, for the first time, women were recruit and trained as qualified pilots to ferry military aircraft. These outstanding women pilots ultimately became known as the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Fearless Elizabeth joined these ranks in early 1944. The WASP was decommissioned in December of 1944, as the need for pilots had decreased, moving Elizabeth into the next phase of her life as a Petroleum Geologist working for Union Oil Company of California, a likely commission for a geologist with a thorough understanding of the rich California Eocene stratigraphy. As we in the PROWESS committee investigate the pioneering women in the petroleum industry, we find that Elizabeth is joined by dozens of incredible women geologists. Each woman has her own inspiring story and important impact on the science we do.