Samuel Gardner Williams

Active Founder (Sources: Anonymous, 1900, 1924; Fairchild, 1932).

Personal. Samuel Gardner Williams was born near West Winfield in Herkimer County, New York, on August 15, 1827, and died in Ithaca, New York, on May 19, 1900.

His great-grandfather, Samuel Williams, was the first of the family in the United States. S.G. Williams, the son of Ralph and Matilda (Taylor) Williams, attended Whitestown Seminary before enrolling in Hamilton College, from which he graduated as class valedictorian in 1852. He received a Ph.D. from Hamilton in 1867. During the period 1852 to 1879 he served as a teacher or principal, successively, at Groton Academy, Seneca Falls Academy, Ithaca Academy, and Central High School in Cleveland. Cornell appointed Williams to the chair of general and economic geology in 1879. He transferred to the new chair of pedagogy in 1886 and served there until his retirement in 1898.

Williams married Electa Clark in 1853. She died in 1875. He then married Mrs. Sarah Louise (Hubbell) Babcock in 1887. She died in 1897. Williams had two daughters by his first marriage.

Professional. Williams’s first publication in geology was a brief report (1875) for the Hayden Survey on the coal and oil potential of some formations near Canon City, Colorado. Between 1883 and 1887 Williams wrote five papers on Paleozoic rocks of central and western New York dealing with their areal extent, stratigraphy, and fossils. The culmination of Williams’s geological work was his text book Applied Geology: A Treatise on the Industrial Relations of Geological Structure; and on the Nature, Occurrence, and Uses of Substances Derived from Geological Sources (1886), issued in the popular Appleton science series. The book included a brief, simple introduction to the principles of geology, followed by descriptions of materials of economic potential, with an emphasis on their occurrence within the United States. Williams also published several books and papers on the history of education.

Role as a Founder. Williams’s main association with GSA was his attendance at the December 1888 meeting in Ithaca, a happenstance of his work at Cornell that came at the end of his research career as a geologist. He had given papers at Section E (Geology and Geography) meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1884, 1885, and 1886 and was, therefore, probably present during discussions that led to the formation of GSA. He also signed the Circular of the Committee of Organization of the American Geological Society in August 1888, along with 36 other individuals.