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Women Sitting Wells: A Forgotten History


When Affirmative Action regulation introduced a “horde” of women geologists into the bowels of major multinational oil companies starting in 1973, the concept of sending women out to sit wells upset management throughout the United States. Within a few years, the fear that drilling crews would greatly harass women were proven unwarranted. Women now routinely take their turn minding their company's drilling programs. Lost to the 1970's generation of male managers and to all the women who “fought the good fight” to get out onto a well site was the fact that women had been hired to sit wells over a half of century before! US entry into World War I in 1917 produced an acute shortage of geologists as they went off to war. In 1917, coincidentally, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists was born. Also in 1917 newly formed and successful Empire Gas and Fuel Company (later Cities Service Company) of Bartlesville hired Alexander McCoy to establish a research lab for subsurface investigations including well sitting, sample describing and contour map making…innovative concepts that were slow to be tried and embraced in the Midcontinent. McCoy was historic with this geologically-based exploration which was crucial because this was long before well logging tools, micropaleontology and seismic were developed and advanced correlation stratigraphy. The other historic decision he made starting in January 1918 was to hire three women geologists for well sitting and sample description work! In 1919 they became the first women members of AAPG. That same year Roxana Oil Company (later Shell Oil) in St Louis also hired three women and they too became members of AAPG. All of these first six left their jobs (and quit AAPG) when the war was over, either due to returning men taking back those jobs or due to marriage. In fact in 1920, McCoy married the first woman he had hired, thus ending her career! For the most part, women geologists were again prevented from well sitting until 1943 when the US became engaged in the Second World War which once again created a shortage of geologists. Women were hired in larger than ever numbers to replace the soldiering men. After the war, once again, many women left their jobs and left the industry. Although, some persevered and had very successful careers. The occasional woman did manage to do some well site work before Affirmative Action, but it was rare. By 1973 their well site legacy had been forgotten.