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History of the Folger

The Folger Shakespeare Library. Postcard, ca. 1945

The story of the Folger Shakespeare Library is intrinsically linked to that of its founders, Henry Clay Folger and his wife Emily Jordan Folger, who established the Folger in 1932 as a gift to the American people. Emily Folger later wrote of Henry Folger’s belief that “the poet is one of our best sources, one of the wells from which we Americans draw our national thought, our faith and our hope.” The Folger is located in the nation’s capital for that reason.


Henry Folger’s interest in Shakespeare was sparked by a lecture given by Ralph Waldo Emerson that he attended as a senior at Amherst College in 1879. Throughout a long career in the oil industry, he built up, with his wife’s assistance, the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials. Together, Henry and Emily Folger then planned the library that would house their collection.


Following its opening, the Folger steadily expanded its holdings to become a world-class research center on the early modern age in the West, while remaining the premier center for Shakespeare studies and resources outside of England. Its public outreach programs, beginning in the library’s early decades with exhibitions, lectures, and publications, have also grown over time. Today they include Folger Theatre productions, early-music concerts by the Folger Consort, Folger Poetry, fiction readings through the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, the Folger Library Shakespeare editions, and a lively array of education offerings for teachers, students, and families.


Learn More ...
Building the Collection  |  Founding the Library  |  The Early Years  |  New Horizons

Frank O. Salisbury. Henry Clay Folger. Oil on canvas, 1927

Frank O. Salisbury. Emily Jordan Folger. Oil on canvas, 1927

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Amherst College, founder Henry Folger's alma mater

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