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Helen Jeanne Plummer

1891 - 1951

The sudden, wholly unexpected death of Helen Jeanne Plummer, at Austin, Texas, on January 11, 1951, constitutes a grievous loss, especially from the standpoint of micropaleontology, her major field of scientific interest. To long experience and a high degree of skill in research on microfossils, she added great enthusiasm. Accordingly, across the years of her scientific activities, she gained authoritative knowledge of late Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic foraminiferal assemblages, especially of the Gulf Coastal region in the United States. She was much interested in every phase of paleozoological studies of these fossils, including their classification, morphology, and paleoecological implications, but at the same time, she gave much attention to the stratigraphic usefulness of the foraminifera. Thus, she was able to make important contributions to determining correlation of beds, both in surface outcrops and in subsurface distribution. Partly by correspondence and exchange with specialists in other parts of the world, but largely by her own efforts in the region of her special investigations, she gradually organized an outstanding private collection of foraminiferal genera, species and assemblages, and brought together an extremely valuable scientific library pertaining to these fossils. The books of this library, well bound and indexed, were conveniently arranged for consultation in her excellently equipped private laboratory.

Helen Jeanne Skewes was born in Muskegon, Michigan, on May 7, 1891. She attended Northwestern University, where she became interested in geology and received a B. A. degree in 1913. With award of a fellowship for the school year 1913-14, she continued graduate studies in geology at Northwestern but did not submit thesis and receive an M. A. degree until 1925. In 1914, she was offered an appointment as office geologist at headquarters of the Illinois Geological Survey, in Urbana, and continued there until, in 1917, she accepted a position of similar sort with the Roxana Petroleum Company, in Oklahoma and later in Texas. In 1918, she married Frederick Byron Plummer, one of the Roxana geologists, and resigned her company employment in order to aid in Mr. Plummer's geological work and carry on studies of her own choosing. She began to specialize in studies on the foraminifera.

During the 1920's and '30's, Mrs. Plummer’s field studies and collecting extended over a large part of the Gulf Coastal region, although they were mainly concentrated in the coastal plain of Texas. A two-year period, about 1921-23, was spent with Mr. Plummer at headquarters of the Shell organization at The Hague, in Holland. She used opportunities of this stay abroad to make the acquaintance of European specialists in micro- paleontology and to obtain various publications. On return to the United States, residence was maintained for several years at Fort Worth, and when Mr. Plummer joined the staff of the University of Texas in 1928, permanent residence was established in Austin. Here the Plunmers built a lovely home in which were included special facilities for preparation of microfossil materials and their study, with provisions for library, storage of collections, and photography.

During part of the school years of 1930 and 1932, Mrs. Plummer served as special lecturer in micropaleontology at Northwestern University. In 1933, she accepted appointment as consulting geologist on the staff of the University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, holding this position until 1948, when she accepted a position as research scientist. In this latter capacity, Mrs. Plummer gave full time to micropaleontological studies and to investigations of the stratigraphy of Upper Cretaceous rocks, particularly in the zone of the Taylor and Navarro formations. Because of great activity in drilling south and east of Austin, she was able to secure many well samples, most of which were brought in to her by the drillers in order that she might give them formation identifications. Thus, much new and important subsurface information on the stratigraphy of Cretaceous rocks in Travis, Bastrop, and Caldwell Counties was accumulated. Plans for publication of a general report on the stratigraphy of these rocks and foraminifera of the Upper Cretaceous in the Austin region were interrupted by her death. Dr. John T. Lonsdale, Director of the Bureau, reports that the work was sufficiently far along to permit hopes of organizing it for ultimate publication. This is very much to be desired for its intrinsic worth, quite aside from adding to the record of publications for which Mrs. Plummer is wholly or largely responsible.

Probably the most important publications by Mrs. Plummer are her 1926 paper on "Foraminifera of the Midway formation in Texas" (Texas Univ. Bull. 2644, pp. 1-306, pls. 1-15); the 1931 study, "Some Cretaceous foraminifera in Texas" (Texas Univ. Bull. 3101, pp. 109-203, pls. 1-8); and the report published in 1944 on "Smaller foraminifera in the Marble Falls, Smithwick and lower Strawn strata around the Llano Uplift in Texas" (Texas Univ. Bull. 4401, pp. 209-271, 3 pls., 16 figs.). The last contribution from the pen of Helen Plummer appeared in the January, 1951, issue of The Micropaleontologist.

Mrs. Plummer left her entire estate to the Paleontological Research Institution at Ithaca, New York. This includes all property and securities left to her by the will of her husband, who died in 1947, as well as her own collections, library, scientific equipment, and other property. The collections and library have already been shipped to Ithaca.

Mrs. Plummer was a member of the Paleontological Society, Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, American Geophysical Union, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and American Association for the Advancement of Science. She was a fellow of the Geological Society of America.

In addition to her unusual record of scientific achievements, Helen Jeanne Plummer's gracious personality, sincere interest in her wide circle of friends, and unsparing generosity of time and personal efforts in aiding young micropaleontologists who came within her influence and looked to her for guidance, are qualities which make her especially missed.

Reproduced From: The Micropaleontologist, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Apr., 1951), pp. 28-30
Publisher by: The Micropaleontology Project, Inc.
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More biographical information on Helen Plummer is located at: The Handbook of Texas Online

Also see: Texas Natural Science Center, Non-vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory, Women in geology, H. J. Plummer














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