Timeline of the Folger Shakespeare Library
The Folger’s day-to-day calendar is packed with performances, programs, tours, conferences, institutes, publications, and exhibitions. This timeline, updated from a version assembled for the Folger’s 70th anniversary in 2002, offers a longer perspective. Browse through to see how much has changed—or stayed the same—during our 75-plus years as an institution.
The years before 1932
1879 Amherst College senior Henry Clay Folger attends a lecture by Ralph Waldo Emerson on "superlative or mental temperance." Inspired, Folger reads several of Emerson's other works, including an 1864 speech on Shakespeare that shapes Folger's life as a devotee of the Bard and collector of Shakespeareana.
1885 Henry Folger and Emily Jordan marry.
1896 Emily Folger earns a master's degree from Vassar College. Her thesis title is "The True Text of Shakespeare."
1914 Henry Folger is awarded an honorary doctorate by Amherst College in recognition of the Folgers' growing Shakespeare collection.
1919–27 Through an agent, Henry Folger assembles a parcel of land in the 200 block of East Capitol Street, SE, for a library to house the collection acquired by the Folgers over several decades.
1928 Henry Folger retires from his position as chairman of the board, Standard Oil of New York.
1929 Paul Philippe Cret of Philadelphia selected as architect; Cret subsequently recommends New York sculptor John Gregory to create bas-reliefs for the library’s facade.
Construction of the library begins.
1930 Henry Folger dies at age 72 on June 11, 1930.
Henry Folger’s will reported in the New York Times, including his plan for the library. The will designates the trustees of Amherst College as the library's administrators.
1931 After Henry Folger's estate proves much smaller than expected because of the 1929 stock market crash, Emily Folger provides more than $3 million in securities and other gifts; she supplies additional funds a year later.
William A. Slade, formerly of the Library of Congress, becomes librarian and director; shares responsibilities with Joseph Quincy Adams of Cornell University, who becomes the director of research.
First books arrive at the library from warehouse storage.
Decade I: 1932-41
1932 Folger Shakespeare Library dedicated on April 23, the traditional date of Shakespeare’s birthday. President Herbert Hoover attends; Emily Folger presents the key to the building to the Amherst trustees; Joseph Quincy Adams delivers the first annual Shakespeare's Birthday lecture, “Shakespeare and American Culture.”
Emily Folger awarded honorary doctorate by Amherst College.
1933 Reading Room made regularly open to accredited scholars.
1934 The Folger observes the 370th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birthday with a musical program broadcast to a nationwide radio audience.
William Slade returns to the Library of Congress; Joseph Quincy Adams becomes acting director.
1935 Trustees establish two annual fellowships available to “young scholars of unusual promise in the field of Elizabethan research.”
Library initiates first card catalog of its books under the direction of chief bibliographer, E. E. Willoughby.
1936 Emily Folger dies at age 77 on February 21, 1936.
Joseph Quincy Adams is appointed director.
A facsimile of the Folger's unique first quarto of Titus Andronicus (1594) is the library's first scholarly publication. Between 1936 and 1941, a total of six facsimile volumes are published, including copies of The Passionate Pilgrim (1599) and The Ghost of Lucrece (1600).
To foster social and scholarly dialogue, the Folger begins serving afternoon tea to staff and visiting researchers. At first, tea is in the Founders' Room; later, it moves to the separate Tea Room.
1938 The Folger purchases the collection of the late Sir Robert Leicester Harmsworth, comprising more than 8,000 rare books printed in England between 1475 and 1640. Together with later acquisitions of Continental material, the Harmsworth purchase expands the Folger's focus beyond Shakespeare studies to include virtually all aspects of the early modern world.
In the first of several purchases from the manuscript collection at England's Loseley Hall, the Folger acquires the official records of Sir Thomas Cawarden, Master of the Revels for Henry VIII, Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, and the young Elizabeth I.
1939 To celebrate the 500th anniversary of the invention of printing in the West, some of the collection's earliest books are placed on display.