Finding Aids to Personal Papers and Special Collections in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 7328
Williams, James Steele, 1896-1957
James Steele Williams Papers, circa 1918-1960 and undated
James Steele Williams (1896-1957) was an authority on Carboniferous and Permian paleontology and stratigraphy. He was educated at the University of Missouri where he received the B.A. degree in 1921, the M.A. in 1922, and the Ph. D. in 1924. Williams was appointed Instructor of Geology at the University of Missouri in 1921. He continued his academic career until 1930, eventually achieving the position of Associate Professor. In addition to his faculty post, Williams held appointment as Geologist on the staff of the Missouri Bureau of Geology and Mines. In 1930 he joined the United States Geological Survey's (USGS), Section of Paleontology as assistant, and eventually successor, to George Herbert Girty -- a leading specialist on late Paleozoic marine fauna. Williams remained with the USGS for the remainder of his career, and at the time of his death he had risen to the position of Principal Geologist.
After joining the USGS, Williams' paleontological studies were concentrated on the Carboniferous invertebrate fauna of the mid-western United States. His interests later shifted to the Carboniferous and Permian invertebrates of the western United States (primarily the Rocky Mountain states) and Alaska. During several summers from 1930 to 1953, Williams collected fossils with USGS field parties detailed to the West. During World War II, Williams was placed in charge of the USGS investigation of domestic fluorspar resources.
Williams was active within the geological profession and held membership in many organizations - several of which he served in elected or appointed capacities. In 1937 he was a United States delegate to the Seventeenth International Geological Congress in Russia. He traveled to Heerlen, Netherlands, in 1951, as USGS representative at the Third Congress of Carboniferous Stratigraphy and Geology.
For additional biographical information on Williams, see "Memorial to James Steele Williams (1896-1957)," by W. P. Woodring. Proceedings Volume of the Geological Society of America Annual Report for 1957, pp. 171-174, May 1958.
The 1879 act establishing the United States Geological Survey (USGS) declares, "And all collections of rocks, minerals, soil, and fossils, and objects of natural history, archaeology, and ethnology, made by the Coast and Interior Survey, the Geological Survey, or by any other parties for the Government of the United States, when no longer needed for investigations in progress, shall be deposited in the National Museum." Many of the paleontologists affiliated with the USGS Paleontology and Stratigraphy Branch have been stationed at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) to study and care for the national collections. This close working relationship between the USGS and the NMNH has resulted in the Smithsonian Archives acquiring records and special collections documenting paleontological work of the Survey and its scientists.
The papers of James Steele Williams provide documentation of his professional career from the early 1920s until his death in 1957. The papers document his research on Carboniferous and Permian invertebrates; work on various United States Geological Survey (USGS) projects, especially the World War II era investigations of domestic fluorspar resources; field work in the western United States; and professional activities. Materials documenting Williams' teaching career at the University of Missouri and his work for the Missouri Bureau of Geology and Mines are also present. The majority of the collection consists of incoming and outgoing correspondence found in two series. The first consists of letters exchanged between Williams and paleontologists in the United States. The correspondence concerns all aspects of Williams' professional work, and is particularly valuable in documenting day-to-day activities of the USGS Section of Paleontology. The second series of letters documents professional relations between Williams and foreign paleontologists. This correspondence provides extensive information on Williams' participation at the Seventeenth International Geological Congress in Russia, 1937, and at the Third Congress of Carboniferous Stratigraphy and Geology at Heerlen, Netherlands, 1951.
The papers also include notebooks, mostly from Williams' student days; undated photographs of Williams; classroom materials used by Williams in courses taught at the University of Missouri; and a bibliography of Missouri Geology maintained by Williams.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
- Williams, James Steele, 1896-1957
- Girty, George Herbert, 1869-1939
- Geological Survey (U.S.)
- University of Missouri
- Missouri. Bureau of Geology and Mines
- International Geological Congress
- Congress of Carboniferous Stratigraphy and Geology
- Paleontology -- Carboniferous
- Paleontology -- Permian
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7328, James Steele Williams Papers