Henry Shaler Williams (1847-1918) was born in Ithaca, New York. He received degrees from Yale's Sheffield Scientific School, Ph.B., 1868, and Yale University, Ph.D., 1871.
In 1871, Williams went to Transylvania College, then known as Kentucky University, where he taught geology for a year. For the next several years he helped with his father's banking and mercantile enterprises in Ithaca. In 1879, Williams joined Cornell University as an assistant professor of geology. He was later promoted to professor of paleontology, 1884, and professor of paleontology and geology, 1886. Six years later Williams was selected by James Dwight Dana to succeed him as Silliman Professor of Geology at Yale where he remained until 1904. He returned to Cornell in 1904 as professor of geology and director of the Geological Museum, a position he held until his retirement in 1912. In addition to his academic appointments, Williams did research and field work for the United States Geological Survey.
Williams' paleontological interests were in the Devonian fossils of southern New York, Maine, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Besides his contributions to research, Williams was one of the founders of the Sigma Xi honorary society, 1886, and The Geological Society of America, 1888.