Henry S. Williams was born in Ithaca, graduated from Yale, and returned to Ithaca to teach at Cornell from 1879 until 1892. He returned to Yale for 12 years, and in 1904, again returned to Cornell in the Geology Department until his retirement as Professor Emeritus in 1912.
He had a lifelong association with the United States Geological Survey, and was the intellectual father of Sigma Xi. He was the first president of the Alpha Chapter of Sigma Xi in 1887.
He endeared himself to his students by his unselfish devotion to them, and to his colleagues in the Faculty. He won the affection and respect of the Board of Trustees by his sterling qualities as a man and his attainments as a scholar.
Professor Williams passed away in 1918 in Havana, Cuba, where he was assisting his son with farming and mining ventures.