Emily Clara Jordan was born in Ironton, Ohio, on May 15, 1858. Her father, Edward Jordan, was a lawyer, a newspaper editor, and, during the Lincoln and Johnson administrations, solicitor of the Treasury Department in Washington, DC. Her mother’s maiden name was Augusta Woodbury Ricker. Emily Jordan attended Vassar College, where her tuition was paid by her older sister, Mary Augusta Jordan. A brilliant scholar, Mary Augusta Jordan was a professor of English at Smith College from 1884 to 1921; the college’s Jordan House dormitory is named in her honor.
After graduating from Vassar in 1879, Emily Jordan worked for six years as an instructor in the collegiate department at the Nassau Institute in Brooklyn, a private girls’ school. She was introduced to Henry Folger by her friend Lily Pratt, the sister of his college roommate Charles Pratt, and the two were married in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on October 6, 1885. Emily Jordan Folger played an important role in aiding her husband with his growing Shakespeare collection, keeping up-to-date records of the contents of the collection, reviewing auction-house catalogs for possible acquisitions, and advising him on some purchases.
During her marriage, Emily Folger earned a master’s degree from Vassar for her thesis, “On the True Text of Shakespeare.” As was typical for such a work at the time, her thesis summarized the views of leading scholars rather than taking a new position. Among her advisors was the well-known Shakespeare scholar, Horace Howard Furness.
Emily and Henry Folger planned together for a library to house the collection, choosing the present-day site of the Folger as they walked around Washington during a World War I travel delay. After Henry Folger’s death in 1930, Emily Folger completed the project. She later wrote, "we had been together so long and had been so much at one in our thought that I knew what he desired and was prepared to take up the task in his name." When the funds Folger had left to the project proved inadequate due to the 1929 stock market crash, she donated an initial $3 million in Standard Oil securities, followed by a further donation the next year.
In 1932, Emily Folger received an honorary doctorate from Amherst College for her untiring efforts toward the completion of the Folgers’ joint dream. She continued to play a role in the Folger’s affairs until her death on February 21, 1936, at her home in Glen Cove, Long Island, at the age of 77.