Timeline of the Folger Shakespeare Library

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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.