Ethel Ward-McLemore

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Ethel Ward-McLemore
Ethel Ward McLemore.jpg
Membership Honorary Membership

The Math. Everything is tied to it. Math is poetry, music, philosophy.

-- Ethel Ward-McLemore, 1988

Ethel Ward McLemore (22 Jan 1908 - January 13, 1994) was a geophysical researcher whose work spanned many areas of geophysics and geochemistry.


Early Years and Education

Ethel Ruth Ward was born in 1908, one of eight children, to Virginia and Dr. William Ward. Dr. Ward was the town physician of Sylvarena, Mississippi, and Virginia was a former school teacher. The Ward childrens' home life was intellectually rich in books, and free time to read them. Ethel showed such an aptitude in mathematics that her father struck a deal with the school superintendent of the Raleigh County school that she be tutored in college level algebra and trigonometry.[1]

Ethel entered the Mississippi Women's College at age 16, She continued to excel in mathematics to the degree that she was given advanced instruction. She double majored in mathematics and chemistry, and was the editor of the school's newspaper Scissors. Ethel Ward pursued graduate studies in mathematics and chemistry at the University of North Carolina on a Ledux Teaching Fellowship. In 1929 Ethel Ward was the first woman to earn a masters' degree in chemistry at UNC. While working on her thesis, she acquired what she called an inner compulsion that will not be subdued to do research.

The publication of her discovery of the four-water of crystallization of the system of ferrous sulfate, sulfuric acid and water earned her entry into the Society of Sigma Xi. She was later invited to join the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Remarkably, Ethel, her sister Frances and brother Jim (both in the medical field) were all three simultaneously inducted into the AAAS.

Ethel began her teaching career at her alma mater Mississippi Women's College. In 1932, owing to the financial ravages of the Great Depression, the institution nearly closed, owing in large part to the actions of then Governor Theodore Bilbo.[2]

Humble Oil

Ethel Ward's connection to the oil industry began with a casual conversation at the Houston Philosophical Society, between Donald Barton (SEG co-founder and future first SEG President) and physics professor Lewis Mott-Smith who was engaged to be married to Ethel's sister, Frances Ward. Barton was about to join Humble Oil, and was looking for a top notch research mathematician, and Ethel Ward's qualifications fit the bill. In 1933 Ethel Ward and Donald Barton joined Humble's Geological Department, then headed by Wallace Pratt. Mott-Smith would later design and patent a torsion gravimeter.

Ethel Ward's first job was performing statistical analyses in the interpretation of data from Eötvös torsion balance and Truman gravimeter data. Because Barton was charged with bringing new technology into Humble Oil, part of Ethel's job was evaluating oil finding devices and method that were brought by would-be inventors to Humble.

Colorado School of Mines

Ethel Ward married petroleum engineer Robert (Bob) McLemore in 1935. In 1937, when Bob was assigned to a well in Beevil, Texas, Ethel left Humble to be with him. After Donald Barton's death in 1939, Ward-McLemore edited the many notes left by Barton, which were later published. In 1941, Bob McLemore, a captain in the US Army was called into active service and the McLemores moved to the military post at Fort Logan, Colorado.

Carl A. Heiland of the Colorado School of Mines was introduced to Ethel by a common friend John Hollister. Heiland was impressed with a presentation made by Ward-McLemore (with co-author Paul Weaver) at the SEG Annual Meeting in 1941--so impressed, that he invited her to attend an advanced seminar that he was offering, high praise from the strict German-educated professor.

United Geophysical Company

In 1942, Bob, now Colonel McLemore, was reassigned to head a military contingent of meteorology students at CalTech, in Pasadena, California. Also in Pasadena was the United Geophysical Company headed by former Humble employee C. Hewitt Dix. Dix invited Ethel to join his research group. Some of the work that she participated with Dix on were related to free surface reflections and the Rayleigh wave. In 1946 Ethel Ward McLemore left the United Geophysical Company to work with her husband, who now was working again as a petroleum engineer. Ethel worked as a geophysical consultant. She continued with research, some of which resulted in the classic paper Probability studies in three variants: seismic velocity, depth, and lithology, GEOPHYSICS Volume 28, Issue 1 (February 1963).

Southern Methodist University

The McLemores lived in Dallas from 1955. For the next 20 years, Ethel would work as an independent geophysical consultant. In the late 1950s Ward-McLemore taught at Southern Methodist University (SMU). In 1962 she returned to SMU to do graduate work with Professor Gene Simmons. Her project involved applying Huygen's principle (the Kirchhoff modeling formula) in a computer environment. She worked on a system that was made available to SMU build by the Control Data Corporation and obtained through a joint usage agreement:

According to Gene Simmons (in a personal communication):
The computer was obtained through an Agreement between SMU and Ross Perot (or a company owned by him) in which SMU would provide a building to house and administer a CDC computer and Perot would provide the computer. Perot would have use of the computer weekdays (I think 8-5) and SMU would have use of it nights and weekends. At that time, I was an Assistant Prof and spent many nights and weekends using the computer -- learning to program. There was no charge for the SMU people using the computer!

This eventually led to a collaboration with IBM head mathematician Ira Wright and the publication of several papers.


A listing of Ethel Ward-McLemore's publications:

McLemore, Ethel Ward. "AGU and the body politic." Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union 60.1 (1979): 1-2.
Ward-McLemore, Ethel. "Ground-water in Texas." (1985).
Ward-McLemore, Ethel. "Selected bibliography of ground-water in the United States." (1984).
Ward-McLemore, Ethel. "Annotated bibliography of the Palo Duro basin area, including the Hardeman basin, Hollis basin; New Mexico-Texas-Oklahoma. Supplement." (1983).
Ward-McLemore, Ethel. "Selected bibliography of China." (1983).
Ward-McLemore, Ethel. "Annotated bibliography of the Black Warrior basin area, northern Alabama-northern Mississippi." (1983).
McLemore, Ethel Ward. "AGU and the body politic." Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union 60.1 (1979): 1-2.
McLemore, E. W., & Wright, I. L. (1976). Reflection coefficients and their derivatives. TEXAS JOURNAL OF SCIENCE, 27(3), 331-351.
McLemore, Ethel Ward. "Messages from Mount Olympus." Science 170.3953 (1970): 15-16.
McLemore, Ethel Ward. "Probability studies in three variants: seismic velocity, depth, and lithology." Geophysics 28.1 (1963): 46-86.
McLemore, Ethel Ward. "Manifesto from a Corporation Wife." Fortune 45.83: 88-91.
McLemore, Ethel Ward, Paul Weaver, and Donald C. Barton. "The Crosbyton anomaly, southeastern Crosby County, Texas." Geophysics 7.2 (1942): 179-191.
Ward, Ethel Ruth. The Solubility of Ferrous Sulphate in Aqueous Solutions of Sulphuric Acid. Diss. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1929.

Later years

Ethel Ward-Mclemore continued to be active in research, and in science and mathematics education, teaching or doing research at a number of institutions. In 1976, Ward_McLemore contacted the director of the Geological Information Library of Dallas (GILD) about donating her extensive personal geoscience library to GILD. She stipulated that she came with the collection and began a long relationship as a volunteer and as a member of the board of directors of GILD.

McLemore was active intellectually until her death in 1994.

Biography Citation for SEG Honorary Membership 1989

Still active in geophysical research, Ethel Ward-McLemore's career stands as an example of technical excellence and creative application of theoretical principles. Her presence in the geophysical community also serves as a personal triumph of the type of pioneer spirit that few have the opportunity to demonstrate in their lives.

Her unanimous election to the ranks of Honorary Membership in our Society is in recognition of her "early work for Humble Oil and Refining in the application of statistical analysis of gravity data and evaluation of new oil finding instruments and her unstinted service over more than 50 years to the Society of Exploration Geophysicists." Her formal education in mathematics and chemistry began at Mississippi Woman's College where she earned her B.A. in 1928. She furthered her studies at the University of North Carolina where she earned an M.A. in 1929. Education for Ethel did not stop when her degrees were awarded. Her love of learning has led her to pursue courses and research at such institutions as the University of Chicago, Colorado School of Mines, Texas Christian University, and Southern Methodist University.

From a firm foundation in the basics, in 1932 she found her way into geophysics through Donald Barton (SEG cofounder and first President). His search for a first-rate mathematician to be his assistant ended when he found Ethel. In 1933, they both joined Humble's Geological Department, headed by Wallace Pratt. Here she participated in frontier work with torsion balance surveys, keeping abreast of the new geophysical technology's theory and application. She performed statistical analysis in the interpretation of data from the Eotvos torsion balance and the Truman gravimeter.

In 1935 Ethel Ward married Robert McLemore, a petroleum engineer. Her biggest challenges and greatest successes were just beginning. Two years later, Ethel left Humble when her husband was transferred to Beeville, Texas, as district engineer for Sun Oil. She, however, decided to continue her research with Barton independently.

Through her technical expertise and research abilities, she fully participated in the development of the science of geophysics. She studied with Carl August Heiland at the Colorado School of Mines and worked with C. Hewitt Dix at United Geophysical Company. Jumping on the computer bandwagon in the early sixties, she found them extremely useful tools for her research.

In a time of increasing specialization, Ethel has remained a generalist. This is reflected in her profusion of publications which have included such diverse topics as: Solubility of ferrous sulphate (1930), Rayleigh waves and free surface reflections (1945), Manifesto from a corporate wife (1952), Probability studies in three variants: Seismic velocity, depth, and lithology (1963), Fortran solution of the general quartic equation (1971), Groundwater in Texas (1985), and The Academies of Science of Texas 1880-1987 (1989). In addition to the articles she has written, Ethel was featured in TLE in October 1988.

She continues her work in the surroundings of the Geological Information Library of Dallas, now located at the University of Texas at Dallas, and actively participates in many professional societies.

Throughout her career, independent has been a key word to describe Ethel. She has always had a goal pursuing research. Furthermore, she has always had the sharp intellect, personal warmth, and inner strength to achieve her goal. By recognizing Ethel with Honorary Membership in the Society, SEG is actually honoring all those who, as she has described her generation of scientists, have left the legacy of "the ability to ask why: not to accept unquestioningly things as they are."

"Ethel Ward-McLemore, 1942"

Biography 1942 [3]

Ethel Ward McLemore (Mrs. R. H. McLemore) received her B.A. degree from Mississippi Woman's College in 1928, majors in chemistry and mathematics; M.A. degree from University of North Carolina in 1929 in chemistry and mathematics; work on Ph.D. at University of Chicago in 1931. She entered the Research Department Geophysics of Humble Oil & Refining Company in 1934, having taught chemistry and mathematics at Mississippi State College for Women in 1930-32. She remained with the Humble until 1937. Since that time she has worked on mathematical interpretation of geophysical data, particularly as pertaining to gravimetrical instruments and the correlation of results, and private teaching of advanced mathematics and French. At present Mrs. McLemore is working on a collection of unpublished papers by Dr. D. C. Barton, to be published posthumously by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. She is a member of Sigma Xi Society and the American Association of University Women.


  1. Proubasta, D. (1988). Ethel Ward‐McLemore. The Leading Edge, 7(10), 42–47.
  2. History of Mississippi University for Women
  3. Contributors, Geophysics, Vol. VII, No. 2, P. 207.