John Francis Williams

Active Founder (sources: Kemp, 1891; Fairchild, 1932).

Personal. John Francis Williams was born on October 25, 1862, at Salem, New York, and died on November 9, 1891, from complications stemming from influenza. He was the son of John Martin and Frances A. (Shriver) Williams.

After his early education at Saint Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire (1874–1880), Williams entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, from which he graduated in 1883 with a degree in civil engineering. The next autumn, he became an assistant in chemistry and natural science at Rensselaer and there came under the influence of Henry B. Nason, another GSA founder. Williams received a B.S. degree from Rensselaer in 1885.

In the summer of 1884, following in the footsteps of his mentor, Professor Nason, Williams began to travel and study geology in Europe, visiting the mines of Sweden and Norway and the volcanic areas of Italy and Sicily. He enrolled at Gottingen University in Germany, where he specialized in mineralogy and igneous petrography and in chemistry. He received his doctorate in 1886. He returned to America in 1887 to become Director of the technical museum of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. He became an honorary fellow at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1889, and then a docent the following summer. Concurrently, he undertook the study of igneous rocks in Arkansas, completing this work in the summer of 1891. He accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Cornell University in June 1891, and was only just starting his new position when the recurrence of a lingering illness increasingly incapacitated him and finally proved fatal two weeks after his 29th birthday.

Professional. Williams was just beginning to establish his geological reputation when he died. His earliest noteworthy publication derived from his doctoral thesis in which he studied the petrography of a volcanic district in Italy, tracing the differences in rock types that occurred throughout one large eruptive mass. His final, and perhaps his most significant, work was his report for the Arkansas Geological Survey on the igneous rocks of the state. In this report he described in detail variations of syenite associations, including the establishment of leucite-syenite as a new variety.

Role as a Founder. Williams had returned to the United States only a year before 1888, the birth year of GSA, and he died just three years later. His main role as a founder was to be present at the 1888 Ithaca meeting and to vote in support of the new society.