William S. Valiant was born in Rome, Oneida County, New York, on November 13, 1845 to John Valiant, a ship-wright, and Mary Marriott, a florist and botanist. His father went to sea about three months prior his birth, never to return. He was then adopted by his grandfather, Mark Marriott until his mother remarried to F. E. Mitchell in 1855. He had four younger brothers and one younger sister from his mother's second marriage. His first geological expedition was along the Mohawk North of Rome in 1858 where he searched for fossils. He received guidance through correspondence with James Hall, State Geologist. In 1875, Valiant classified and catalogued a collection of minerals for the Rome Academy.
Valiant began his work at the Rutgers Geology Museum in 1893 as assistant curator to Prof. A. H. Chester on a salary of just $40 a month. He worked hard to clean up the museum, which he described as "helter-skelter". Labels were not always correct and he felt that there were not enough geological specimens in the establishment to call it a geology museum. Valiant can be credited with organizing, relabeling, and recording the thousands of specimens, fossils, and minerals that belonged to the collections. He kept a record of all visitors to the museum and donations made to the exhibits.
After Chester's death in 1903, Valiant took the title of Curator of the Museum. At this time the museum included about 30,000 specimens as well as many books, maps, and other resources.
In his "Records of the Geological Museum" he writes of the cosmetic improvements he made to the building itself:
"In 1905, new and much needed, shades were hung up on the 32 windows of the Museum. In 1906, a new heating plant was installed, and the Museum was kept warm during the winter of 1906-1907. A desk laboratory, with gas connections, etc., was placed in the Museum, with everything needed to make it one of the best-equipped mineralogic laboratories known! In 1907, an oak bookcase was added, and in May "a friend of the Museum" donated a Zeiss Mineralogical Microscope, and a fine set of geological maps, etc.. Then more maps, books, specimens, etc., in 1908."
Numerous signs posted in the museum read "Students and Visitors are requested to ask questions if further information is desire in regard to the collections or the sciences represented." Valiant took great pride in the educational value that the museum had to offer and worked strenuously to increase it in any way possible. He worked in the museum for 25 years and was very seldom absent.
"Every visitor to a Museum carries away some new thoughts; inquiry is provoked at every object; for long after they have things to tell of, or to think about. A Museum attendant must be constantly thinking, reading, and reviewing matter pertaining to the Muses--- "the spirits who know and remember, who are the guardians of all wisdom, and who impart to their disciplines knowledge." The old Latin definition is: "A study, or library; a resort of learned men." The first Museums were places of study, and the origin of our modern college and library. Not places of amusement alone."
"The commonest specimens have their places, and were all recorded; a Museum adds dignity to a trifle. A pebble teaches the same lesson with a hundred ton boulder; the skeleton of a mouse occupies as much space in science as does the mastodon's huge frame. What seems a worthless object becomes endowed with interest when properly mounted and labeled, showing a definite relation to other specimens with which it is associated."
-William S. Valiant
**Original source material for this section is from the Special Collections and University Archives at Rutgers University.